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Mme.  Bernhardt  in  her  Dressing-room  during  her  Interpretation  of 
La  Gloire,  by  Maurice  Rostand,  in  1921. 

Photo,  Henri  Manuel.] 


AS  I  KNEW  HER      :: 

The   Memoirs  of  Madame   Pierre   Berton 

as  told  to  BASIL   WOON    ::      :: 


LONDON:     HURST     &      BLACKETT,     LTD. 



Mme.  Bernhardt  in   her  Dressing-room  during  her  Inter- 
pretation of  La  Gloire,  by  Maurice  Rostand,  in  1921 



Baptismal    Certificate    of    Sarah    Bernhardt,    May  21st, 

1846 30 

Sketch  of  Ther^se  Meilhan  (afterwards  Mme.  Pierre  Berton) 

by  Georges  Clairin,  1881           -            -            -            -  42 

Sarah  Bernhardt.     One  of  the  best  of  the  earliest  pictures  64 

Pierre  Berton,  Husband  of  Mme.  Berton,  and  one  of  Sarah's 

Earliest  Intimate  Friends         .            -            -            -  102 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  a  Scene  from  La  Tosca  with  Pierre 

Berton,  when  their  Romance  was  at  its  Height          -  112 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Le  Passant        -            -            -            -  114 

Letter  of  Congratulation  from  Victorien  Sardou     -            -  154 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Caricature         -            -            -            -  160 
Sarah    Bernhardt    (aged  30)    and   her   Son,    Maurice,    on 

the  only  occasion  when  he  acted  with  her      -            -  184 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Theodora           -            -            -            -  ig6 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Hamlet  -----  202 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Adrienne  Lecouvreur     -            -            -  224 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Les  Bouffons,  1906        -            -            -  260 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  her  Studio  Dress           -            -            -  280 

Mme.    Bernhardt's  Sitting-room  at   her  Last   Home,   56, 

Boulevard  Pereire,  Paris          -            -            -            -  302 


Never  was  more  apt  the  German  proverb,  "  Truth  is  its  own 
justification,"  than  in  the  telling  of  the  story  of  that  most  remark- 
able of  women,  Sarah  Bernhardt.  During  her  life,  in  spite  of 
the  fact  that  she  enjoyed  more  widespread  publicity  than  any 
other  person,  man  or  woman,  remarkably  little  was  known  by 
the  public  of  her  real  life  story.  The  very  extent  of  this  world- 
wide publicity  served,  in  fact,  as  a  sort  of  smoke-screen  to  con- 
ceal the  intimate  personality  of  the  woman  it  vaunted. 

To  the  playgoers  of  the  world,  and  even  to  those  who  had  never 
seen  her  act,  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  for  ever  acting  a  part.  She 
shared  her  glory  with  the  dozens  of  poets  and  playwrights  whose 
inspired  interpreter  she  was.  The  laurel  wreath  around  her 
brow  was  of  the  same  tinsel  quality  as  the  scenery  which  framed 
her  personality. 

To  the  world,  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  the  greatest  tragedienne 
who  had  ever  lived,  and  that  was  all.  The  "  all,"  you  will 
say,  was  a  very  great  deal.  I  grant  you  that  ;  but  when  you 
have  read  this  book  I  think  you  will  say  that  the  title  of  "  great 
woman,"  which  Sarah  Bernhardt  in  reality  earned,  expresses 
her  true  personality  far  better  than  that  of  "  greatest  actress." 

It  is  hard  to  begin  this  work  of  telling  the  true,  the  inti- 
mate story  of  Sarah  Bernhardt  without  laying  oneself  open 
to  the  charge  of  revealing  secrets  that  were  better  left  inviolate, 
of  tearing  down  rather  than  building  up  the  laborious  character- 
structure  of  an  international  idol.     But  I  refuse  to  allow  these 


. ^ i 

viii  Introduction 

first  pages  to  become  a  justification— the  work  itself  will  be 
that.     What  I  am  attempting  now  is  simply  an  explanation. 

If,  in  the  course  of  this  book,  certain  episodes  are  recounted 
that  may  possibly  wound  the  feelings  of  those  who  worshipped 
Sarah  as  an  actress,  I  would  point  out  that  the  enthraUing  story 
of  her  tremendous  fight  against  the  worst  odds  that  ever  faced 
a  woman  cannot  be  properly  told  if  certain  essential  elements 
of  her  history  are  suppressed.  Such  elements,  despite  the 
character  they  seem  to  convey,  are  component  parts  of  the 
amazing  whole.  We  cannot  reveal  Bernhardt  in  her  genuine 
greatness  without  revealing  also  certain  things  that  in  a  less 
important  biography  had  certainly  better  have  been  left  un- 

For  seventy-nine  years  Sarah  succeeded  in  concealing  the 
facts  of  her  birth.  Yet  more  than  thirty  years  ago  she  said  to 
Madame  Pierre  Bert  on,  to  whose  remarkable  and  faithful  memory 
the  facts  of  this  biography  are  due,  "  I  hope  that,  when  I  am  dead, 
you,  who  are  younger  than  I  am,  will  reveal  to  the  world  the 
real  Sarah — the  Sarah  whom  the  audiences  never  knew  !  " 

From  time  to  time  thereafter,  throughout  their  long  and 
intimate  association,  Sarah  told  Madame  Berton  the  facts  of  her 
birth,  of  her  childhood,  of  her  absorbing  up-hill  battle  towards 
celebrity  and  of  her  final  conquest.  These  facts,  together  with 
matters  of  Madame  Berton's  own  observation,  are  contained  in 
this  book. 

Scrupulous  to  a  fault,  Madame  Berton  refrained  from  teUing 
or  publishing  a  word  of  what  had  been  given  her  in  confidence, 
until  Sarah's  death  released  her  from  her  promise,  and  at  the 
same  time  put  her  under  the  immediate  obligation  of  fulfilling 

Introduction  ix 

her  old  friend's  wish  and  "  revealing  to  the  world  the  Sarah  whom 
the  audiences  never  knew." 

•A  word  about  Madame  Berton.  She  is  the  widow  of  Pierre 
Berton,  the  actor  and  playwright,  who,  before  his  marriage  to 
her,  was  the  adored  intimate  of  Bernhardt.  Their  liaison,  which 
is  recounted  hereafter,  lasted  two  years,  and  even  after  they 
separated  their  friendship  continued. 

It  was  Berton  who  convinced  Duquesnel,  the  director  of  the 
Odeon,  of  Sarah's  genius  as  a  tragedienne  ;  it  was  Berton  who 
encouraged  her  and  taught  her  and  who,  more  than  any  other 
man,  was  responsible  for  her  early  triumphs.  It  was  Berton 
who  stood  beside  her  when  all  Paris  sneered  at  and  mocked 
her,  and  it  was  Berton  who  defended  her  when  the  co-directors 
of  the  Odeon  wished  to  cancel  her  contract  because  of  what  they 
termed  her  "  incorrigibility."  * 

No  living  person,  then,  can  be  so  fitted  to  tell  Sarah's  true 
history  as  the  widow  of  the  man  who,  himself,  lived  a  part  of  it. 

Madame  Berton,  after  her  marriage  to  Berton,  accompanied 
her  husband  on  many  of  Sarah's  famous  tours  about  Europe. 
Even  after  her  marriage,  Therese  Berton  remained  Sarah's 
confidante  and  friend,  though  there  were  intervals  of  coldness  that 
were  natural  enough  in  a  temperament  as  self-centred,  ajid  as 
jealous  as  was  Sarah's. 

From  now  on  the  story  will  be  as  Madame  Berton  related  it 
to  me.  I  shall  let  her  tell  it  here  just  as  she  told  it  me  in  Paris, 
in  the  same  simple  convincing  language,  without  the  addition 
of  Hterary  flourishes  or  anything  that  could  detract  from  the 
dramatic  power  of  the  narrative  itself. 


Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


For  all  my  intimacy  with  Sarah  Bernhardt  (said  Madame  Berton), 
I  find  it  difficult  to  believe  that  she  loved  me.  I  think  that,  on 
the  contrary,  she  distrusted  me,  and  I  even  believe  that  at  times 
she  hated  me,  because  it  was  I,  and  not  she,  who  had  married 
Pierre  Berton. 

Yet  she  confided  in  me.  She  was  at  times  hard-pressed  for 
somebody  to  whom  she  could  tell  her  secrets.  She  knew  that 
I  would  keep  my  promise  never  to  relate  them  during  her  life- 
time, and  I  know  she  told  them  to  me  because  she  realised  that 
one  day  even  the  most  intimate  details  of  her  Hfe  would  belong 
by  right  to  posterity. 

This  great  actress  with  Jewish,  German,  French  and  Flemish 
(and  probably  also  Gypsy)  blood  in  her  veins,  was  born  into  that 
condition  of  life  which  even  to-day  spells  ruin,  hate,  despair  and 
poverty  for  the  great  majority.  In  those  days  illegitimacy  was 
almost  an  insuperable  obstacle  to  recognition  and  success. 

To  the  fact  that  the  union  of  her  mother  and  father  was 

never  blessed  by  holy  matrimony  may  with  justice  be  ascribed 

the  impunity  with  which  she  was  assailed  during  the  first  forty 

or  fifty  years  of  her  life  by  all  manner  of  critics,  high  and  low. 

No  less  than  three  books  or  pamphlets  were  WTitten  attacking 

her  before  she  had  attained  her  fortieth  year. 


12  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Articles  in  the  Parisian  press  were  sometimes  so  virulent  as 
to  be  inconceivable,  when  it  is  remembered  that  the  object  of 
their  venom  was  the  world's  greatest  actress,  the  "  Divine 
Sarah."  Every  blackmailing  penny-a-liner  in  Paris  essayed  to 
make  Sarah  pay  him  tribute  at  some  time  or  another.  I  do 
not  think  that  she  ever  paid,  but  I  do  know  that  the  fits  of  rage 
and  despair  into  which  she  was  thrown  after  reading  these  attacks 
often  made  her  so  ill  that  for  days  her  understudy  was  obliged  to 
play  her  part. 

"Her  long  fight  to  keep  the  truth  of  her  birth  from  being 
published  is  known.  In  telliog  me  one  day  of  the  sordid  circum- 
stances to  which  she  owed  her  appearance  in  the  world  she 
pledged  me  to  secrecy  during  her  lifetime.  I  have  kept  that 
pledge,  and  it  is  only  because  she  gave  me  express  permission 
to  write  this  book  after  her  death,  and  because  it  is  time  that 
the  world  knew  the  true  story  of  this  extraordinary  genius,  that 
I  tell  it  now.  * 

The  "  Divine  "  Sarah  was  divine  only  in  her  inspiration  ; 
the  "  immortal  "  Sarah  was  immortal  solely  in  her  art.  The 
real  Sarah,  the  Sarah  whom  her  intimates  knew  and  adored,  was 
not  so  much  a  divinity  as  an  idol ;  a  woman  full  of  vanity  and 
frailty,  dominated  since  birth  by  ambitious  egoism  and  a  deter- 
mination to  become  famous. 

She  was  the  supreme  woman  of  the  nineteenth  and  early 
twentieth  centuries  ;  but  it  was  not  her  supremacy  or  her  position 
at  the  pinnacle  of  theatrical  success  that  made  her  lovable. 
She  was  loved,  not  because  she  was  a  saint  but  because  she  was 
not  a  saint ;  for  to  err  is  human  and  to  be  human  is  to  be  loved. 
Even  on  the  stage  her  art  was  natural- — she  did  not  pose,  she  lived. 


Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  13 

*  In  the  history  of  the  Christian  world  only  one  other  woman 
was  born  under  a  greater  handicap  than  was  Sarah  Bernhardt, 
and  few  women  ever  rose  to  a  similar  fame.  Yet  Sarah,  even 
at  the  height  of  her  career,  did  things  which  were  justly  con- 
demned by  strict -living  people  and  would  not  have  been  tolerated 
in  anyone  else's  case. 

Consider  this  woman.  She  was  born  to  an  unwed  Jewish 
mother  whose  birth-place  was  Berlin.  Her  father  was  a  French 
provincial  lawyer,  a  profligate,  who  afterwards  became  a  world- 

She  was  born  a  Jewess,  baptized  a  Catholic.  By  birth  she 
was  French,  and  by  marriage  she  was  Greek. 

Throughout  her  life  she  was,  first,  an  actress  ;  secondly, 
a  mother  ;   thirdly,  a  great,  a  tempestuous  lover. 

She  was  a  sculptress  of  extraordinary  merit ;  she  was  a 
painter  whose  pictures  were  exhibited  in  the  Paris  Salons  before 
she  became  famous  as  an  actress  ;  she  was  a  writer  with  many 
books  to  her  credit, 

A  temperamental  morbidity  was,  I  think,  supreme  in  her 
character,  although  many  who  knew  her  placed  ambition  first. 
After  these  came  mother-love,  vanity,  affection  and  malice. 
She  made  more  enemies  than  friends  ;  more  people  feared  her 
than  loved  her  ;  yet  her  life  was  replete  with  great  sentimental 
episodes  with  some  of  the  most  famous  men  of  her  time. 

The  happiest  period  of  her  life  was  during  the  infancy  of  her 
son  Maurice  ;  her  greatest  joy  was  in  his  abiding  affection. 
The  bitterest  period  of  her  life  was  her  old  age,  when  she  was 
surrounded  by  jackals  whose  affection  for  her  was  chiefly  pur- 
chased by  the  money  she  mistakenly  lavished  on  them  ;    and 

14  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

who  reduced  her  to  such  a  penniless  condition  that,  practically 
on  her  death-bed,  she  was  forced  to  pose  for  an  American  film 
company,  so  that  her  debts  and  funeral  expenses  might  in  part 
be  covered.* 

Fifty  years  of  constant  association  taught  me  the  truth  about 
Sarah  Bernhardt.  Others  might  have  known  her  longer,  but 
none  knew  her  better.  None  certainly  could  speak  with  greater 
authority  of  her  intimate  life.  I  had  the  details  of  her  birth,  her 
life,  and  her  loves  that  are  here  set  forth  from  her  own  lips,  and 
from  the  lips  of  others  who  figured  in  her  career. 

The  first  time  I  met  Sarah  Bernhardt  will  live  in  my  memory 
for  ever.  A  child  of  eight,  I  was  taken  to  visit  the  actress — 
then  beginning  to  taste  the  first  fruits  of  success — in  her  loge 
at  the  Odeon  Theatre. 

I  remember  my  fright  as  we  crossed  the  vast,  cavernous 
stage,  on  our  way  to  the  stairs  which  led  to  the  dressing-rooms. 
Enormous  pieces  of  scenery  looked  as  though  they  might  topple 
on  one  at  any  moment.  Cardboard  statues,  which  to  my  childish 
imagination  seemed  forbidding  demons,  leered  at  me  from  the 
shadows.  Rough,  uncouth  scene-shifters,  acolytes  of  this  painted 
Hades,  jostled  me  as  we  passed.  The  great  height  of  the  stage, 
ending  in  a  gloomy  mystery  of  ropes,  pulleys  and  platforms 
which  hinted  at  occult  rites,  awed  me  and  made  me  feel  smaller 
than  I  really  was  (and  I  was  very  small !). 

From  time  to  time  voices,  bawling  from  the  gloom  but  whence 
exactly  I  neither  knew  nor  could  discover,  echoed  and  re-echoed 
through  the  shadows.  The  curtain  was  up,  and  beyond  the  darkened 
proscenium  I  could  faintly  discern  the  four-storied  auditorium, 
awesome  in  its  resounding  emptiness. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  15 

Whom  could  we  be  going  to  visit  here,  I  wondered,  and 
clung  tighter  to  my  mother's  protecting  skirts,  while  she  inquired 
her  way  of  a  black-coated  gentleman,  who  appeared  with  dis- 
concerting suddenness  as  we  reached  the  foot  of  the  stairs.  But 
I  dared  not  voice  the  question,  and  now  we  mounted  a 
bewildering  number  of  steps,  each  bringing  a  more  mysterious 
vista  than  the  last. 

Finally  we  reached  the  top  of  the  stairs  and  my  mother  led 
me  down  a  long  passageway,  lined  with  doors  which  had  once  been 
painted  white  but  which  were  now  a  dirty  cream  colour.  Some 
of  these  doors  had  simply  numbers  ;  others  bore  a  name  inscribed 
on  a  piece  of  pasteboard,  inserted  in  a  metal  holder. 

Almost  at  the  end  of  the  corridor  my  mother  stopped  before 
a  door  precisely  similar  to  the  others,  except  that  instead  of  a 
number  or  a  pasteboard  it  bore  the  name  in  golden  letters  : 


Even  then  the  young  actress  had  evinced  her  preference  for  gold. 
She  said  that  it  matched  her  hair. 

Receiving  a  summons  to  enter,  my  mother  opened  the  door 
and  went  in,  dragging  me  resolutely  after  her.  Inside  this  door 
was  another,  inscribed  in  like  fashion,  and  when  this  in  turn 
was  opened,  we  found  ourselves  in  a  large  room  illuminated  by 
two  windows  and  shaded  lights,  for  it  was  winter  and  the 
windows  opened  on  a  courtyard. 

This  room  contained  a  settee,  an  armchair,  two  other  chairs 
and  a  table,  which  had  three  movable  mirrors  above  it.  The 
table  was  littered  with  pots  and  vases  of  every  description  and 
a  wild  confusion  of  gold-backed  brushes  and  toilet  accessories. 
A  great  vase  full  of  carnations  stood  on  it,  and  another  filled 

1 6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

with  the  same  flowers  was  on  the  floor  near  one  of  the  windows. 
The  room  was  carpeted,  but  the  carpet  was  so  littered  with 
envelopes,  pieces  of  paper  and  various  articles  of  wearing  apparel 
that  its  design  could  not  be  discerned. 

Seated  before  the  taUe-de-toilette  was  an  angel. 

Let  the  reader  remember  that  he  is  dealing  with  a  child's 
memory.  My  imagination  had  so  been  wrought  upon  by  the 
fearful  caverns  below  that  I  had  fully  expected  to  see,  enthroned 
here,  in  the  upper  chambers,  His  Majesty  Satan  in  all  his  glory. 
The  sight  then  of  this  radiant  creature,  her  head  literally  crowned 
with  a  tumbling  glory  of  gold,  came  as  a  tremendous  shock — 
until  I  recalled  that,  although  that  awful  place  down  below  must 
have  been  Hell,  we  had  mounted  upwards  since  then  and  must 
therefore  by  now  have  reached  Heaven  ! 

As  my  mother  shook  hands,  I  ran  behind  her  and,  terror- 
stricken  at  I  know  not  what,  hid  my  face  in  her  ample  skirts. 
Then,  as  though  from  far  away,  I  heard  the  divinity  speak. 

"  So  this  is  little  Therese  !  "  she  said.  "  Come  here,  ma 
petite,  and  let  Sarah  Bernhardt  kiss  you  I  " 

But  I  would  not  go,  and  only  buried  my  face  all  the  deeper 
in  my  mother's  dress. 

"  Mais,  ma  mignonne,"  remonstrated  the  angel,  "  I  cannot  see 
you  if  you  hide  like  that !     Come  !  " 

My  mother,  excusably  vexed,  dragged  me  from  my  hiding- 

"  Come  !  come  !  "  she  said  sharply  ;  "  speak  to  Mademoiselle  ! 
Go  and  kiss  her  !  " 

Thus  commanded  in  a  tone  I  knew  too  well,  I  advanced  a 
step  and  stood  there  shyly,  not  daring  to  lift  my  head.     Sud- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  17 

denly  I  was  overwhelmed  by  two  arms  and  a  mass  of  golden 
hair,  which  literally  covered  my  head  and  shoulders  as  Sarah 
Bernhardt  caught  me  to  her. 

"  La  pauvre  petite  .  .  .  la  pauvre  mignonne !  "  she  kept 
repeating,  punctuating  the  words  with  hearty  hugs  and  an 
embrace  on  both  cheeks.     Then,  holding  me  at  arm's  length  : 

"  So,  you  want  to  be  an  actress  ?  " 

Now  this,  to  my  knowledge,  was  the  first  occasion  on  which  I 
had  ever  heard  that  I  was  to  be  an  actress.  Certainly  I  had  never 
mentioned  the  idea  to  anyone,  least  of  all  to  my  mother,  who  was 
not  a  person  to  whom  one  made  confidences.  I  stood  there 

"  Ma  foi,"  ejaculated  the  angel,  in  her  glorious  voice,  "  she 
is  pretty  enough  !  " 

There  followed  a  rapid  exchange  of  remarks  between  my 
mother  and  Sarah  Bernhardt-— the  connection  between  whom  I 
have  never  been  able  to  fathom— and  during  these  I  was  ordered 
to  sit  on  the  chair  (my  legs  did  not  touch  the  ground)  and  told 
not  to  open  my  mouth.  As  if  I  would  have  dared  to  !  But  I 
had  become  bold  enough  to  feast  my  eyes  on  the  divinity,  and  to 
study  her  at  leisure. 

How  easily  that  first  childish  impression  of  Sarah  comes  to 
me  now,  fifty  years  later  ! 

Those  amazingly  blue  eyes,  widely-spaced  ;  that  arched  nose, 
a  pulse  beating  in  the  sensitive  nostril  as  she  talked  ;  that  glorious 
mouth,  full  and  red,  the  upper  lip  slightly  projecting  over  the 
under  one ;  that  firm  chin,  with  the  dimple  that  Edmond  Ros- 
tand afterwards  raved  about ;  those  high  cheek-bones,  the  line 
of  them  extending  to  where  the  hair  covered  the  ears  ;  above  all, 

i8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

that  extraordinary  mass  of  unruly  golden-red  hair,  tossed  about 
in  riotous  confusion  and  every  direction. 

Many  another  face  I  might  see  and  forget,  this  one,  never  ! 

When  Sarah  stood  up  to  say  good-bye,  I  saw  that  she  was 
taller  than  my  mother,  and  unbelievably  slender. 

As  we  went  downstairs,  I  was  in  such  an  ecstatic  state  of 
bliss  that  I  had  not  the  slightest  fear  of  the  gnomes  lurking  in 
the  shadows  of  the  nether  regions  as  we  passed  them  again  on 
our  way  out,  nor  do  I  remember  my  mother  talking  to  me. 

My  heart  was  dedicated  to  a  goddess.  Sarah  Bernhardt, 
from  that  day  onwards,  was  my  idol. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  19 


What  is  the  truth  about  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  birth  ?  Have  I 
the  right  to  tell  it,  even  though  I  know  the  facts  ?  Have  I  the 
right  to  divulge  this  secret  of  all  secrets,  for  nearly  four-score 
years  locked  in  the  breast  of  the  greatest  woman  of  five  epochs  ? 
Who  am  I  that  I  should  venture  into  the  cupboards  of  the  dead 
Great  for  the  purpose  of  rattling  the  skeletons  I  am  certain  to 
find  there' — yes,  in  the  cupboards  of  all  the  dead  great  ones 
who  later  surrounded  this  celebrated  woman,  and  not  alone 
Bernhardt  ? 

I  have  faced  this  problem  squarely,  fought  it  out  with  myself 
through  long,  sleepless  nights,  when  publishers  were  bedevilling 
me  for  the  truth,  the  whole  truth  and' — scarcely  anything  but  the 
truth.  It  is  a  problem  that  will  raise  a  sharp  conflict  in  the 
feelings  of  all  my  readers.     It  is  a  problem  for  Poe. 

Have  I  the  right' — knowing  what  I  do  of  the  real  circumstances 
surrounding  not  only  the  dead  genius  but  her  living  relatives 
alsO' — have  I  the  right  to  tear  the  shroud  from  that  dead  face, 
and  let  the  world  gaze  afresh  on  a  long-familiar  visage,  only  to 
find  a  new  and  wondrously  changed  entity  beneath  ? 

I  will  be  frank.  I  had  made  up  my  mind  not  to  do  it  :  not 
for  fear  of  giving  offence  to  the  dead,  for  'twas  from  this  very 
glorious  clay  that  I  had  the  truth  with  permission  to  publish  it, 
but  from  respect  to  the  living.     Sarah  Bernhardt  not  only  left 

20  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

a  son,  Maurice  Bernhardt ;  she  left  grandchildren  and  great- 
grandchildren, little  ones  whom  I  have  watched  joyously  at  play 
in  the  Pare  Monceau,  unknowing  that  at  that  very  moment  the 
great  battle  for  life  was  being  staged  in  the  drab  little  house  on 
the  Boulevard  Pereire.  She  had  made  up  her  mind  that  the 
sorrows  which  were  hers  should  never  blemish  these  innocent  ones. 

And  yet' — what  a  fallacy,  what  a  heartrending  fallacy  it  is 
to  believe  that  such  things  can  be  concealed,  or  that,  being  con- 
cealed, they  do  not  fester  in  their  hiding-places  ! 

Scarcely  had  the  last,  sad  curtain  been  rung  down  on  that 
greatest  of  real-life  dramas  than  the  scavengers  of  literature — 
those  grisly  people  who  lurk  in  the  night  of  life,  dealing  in  calumny 
and  lieS' — began  delving  into  the  past  of  Sarah  Bernhardt,  just 
as  the  real  chiffoniers,  those  horrible  old  women  of  the  dawn, 
delve  into  the  dustbins  of  Paris,  seeking  for  Heaven  knows  what 

The  mystery  of  her  birth  was  Sarah's  great  secret.  Insati- 
able, the  greedy  public  desired  to  rend  this  secret  and  to  tear  it 
into  little  bits.  Literary  ghouls  fell  upon  the  great  woman's 
reputation  and  fought  over  it.  They  disinterred  legends  that 
Sarah,  while  living,  had  successfully  and  scornfully  proved  untrue. 
They  sent  out  lies  by  the  bushel,  secure  in  the  knowledge  that 
the  Golden  Voice,  which  alone  could  brand  them,  was  stilled 
for  ever. 

Perhaps  it  was  to  be  expected  that  the  first  of  these  legends 
came  from  Germany,  a  country  that  Sarah  scorned  and  once 
refused  to  visit,  although  she  had  been  offered  a  miUion  marks  to 
do  so  ;  a  country,  moreover,  which  had  claimed  Sarah  as  its  own 
on  more  than  one  occasion. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  21 

In  1902  the  Berlin  Lokal  Anzeiger  published  a  "  revelation  " 
of  the  birth  of  Sarah  Bernhardt.  She  was  born,  said  the  inspired 
writer,  at  Frankfort.  Her  father  was  a  German,  her  mother  a 
Fleming.  She  had  been  taken  to  France  when  a  tiny  child  and 
there  abandoned  by  her  parents. 

"  We  are  aware,"  said  the  Lokal  Anzeiger,  "  that  Sarah  herself 
claims  to  have  been  bom  in  Paris.  Our  only  retort  to  this  is  : 
let  her  produce  her  birth  certificate  !  " 

They  knew,  of  course,  that  Sarah's  birth  was  never  registered. 
Later  I  will  tell  you  why. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  was  interviewed  about  these  statements  at 
the  time  they  were  published.  As  always,  she  refused  to  comment 
on  the  extraordinary  story,  and  contented  herself  with  referring 
inquiring  journalists  to  her  Memoirs,  entitled  "  Ma  Double  Vie," 
which  had  been  published  some  years  before. 

In  these  Memoirs  Sarah  told  an  infinitesimal  fraction  of  the 
truth.  She  said  that  she  was  born  on  October  22, 1844,  at  number 
5,  rue  de  I'Ecole  de  Medecine,  in  Paris.  This  was  the  only 
mention  she  made  of  the  circumstances  of  her  birth,  and  it  was 

Now  comes  George  Bernhardt,  a  famous  German,  who  ought 
to  know  better  than  to  pander  to  the  scandal-mongers,  and  who 
states  positively  that  Sarah's  father  was  his  great-grandfather, 
George  Bernhardt,  and  that  her  mother  was  a  Gypsy  woman 
for  whom  he  experienced  a  temporary  passion  while  hving  in 

But  here  he  hedges.  "  At  least,"  he  says,  "  family  records 
tell  of  the  existence  of  the  child,  and  of  the  allegation  that  George 
Bernhardt  was  the  father  ;   but  they  also  say  that  the  assertion 

22  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

was  denied  by  him,  which  leads  to  the  probabiUty  that  Sarah 
Bernhardt  had  no  claim  whatever  on  the  name  she  bore," 

Frankfort,  and  now  Algiers !  A  Flemish  mother  and  a 
Gypsy  mother  !     A  fine  haul  for  the  scavengers  ! 

Sarah  had  to  fight  rumours  of  this  kind  on  several  occasions 
during  her  lifetime.  In  a  scurrilous  book  which  was  written  many 
years  ago  it  was  asserted  that  she  "  never  knew  who  her  father 

This,  as  might  be  expected,  was  untrue.  Sarah  not  only 
knew  who  her  father  was,  but  knew  him  well.  Though  she  never 
lived  with  him,  he  visited  her  frequently,  especially  when  she 
was  at  school  in  the  Convent  at  Grandchamps,  and  when  he  died 
he  left  her  a  portion  of  his  fortune. 

Sarah  herself  starts  her  Memoirs  with  this  reference  to  him  : 
"  My  father  was  travelling  in  China  at  the  time — why,  I  do  not 

Here,  then,  was  the  answer  to  the  problem  that  had  been 
bothering  me  :  it  was  clearly  better  to  tell  the  truth  once  and 
for  all,  and  to  set  at  rest  all  doubts  concerning  this  much-debated 
question  of  Sarah  Bernhardt's  birth,  than  to  let  every  newspaper 
scavenger  have  his  own  way  with  it,  prolong  the  agony,  and 
incidentally  contrive,  by  unscrupulous  inference,  to  cast  a 
shadow  much  blacker  than  the  importance  of  the  matter  justified. 

To  aid  me  in  coming  to  this  decision  I  had  the  knowledge 
that  Sarah  herself,  in  telling  the  story  to  me  many  years  ago,  was 
aware  that  one  day  it  would  be  made  public,  and  wished  things 
so.  She  knew  that  in  time  to  come  she  would  belong  to  history, 
and  also  how  little  of  historv  is  founded  on  actual  fact.  The 
last  thing  she  wanted  was  for  the  facts  of  her  life  to  be  at  the 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  23 

mercy  of  imaginative  chroniclers,  who  would  have  nothing  to 
base  their  story  on  except  rumour. 

Thus  she  told  it  to  me,  and  thus  I  tell  it  to  you.     Let  the 
world  decide. 

24  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


No.  5,  rue  de  I'Ecole  de  Medecine  was  a  weird,  queerly-leaning 
tenement  house  in  a  black  little  side-street  just  off  the  Boule- 
vard St.  Germain,  near  the  Boulevard  St.  Michel,  in  the  heart 
of  the  students'  quarter  of  Paris.  It  was  a  poor  dwelling,  at 
best,  with  a  crumbling  fagade,  ornamented  with  some  scarcely- 
discernible  heraldic  device  which  told  of  past  dignity.  It  had 
a  low,  wide  doorway,  with  one  of  its  great  oak,  iron-studded  doors 
askew  on  its  hinges,  so  that  a  perpetual  draught  whistled  up  the 
stone-flagged  corridor  that  loomed  darkly,  like  a  cave,  from  the 
street  to  the  crumbling  stairs.  A  four-story  building  .  .  .  each 
floor  was  just  a  trifle  more  weather-beaten,  more  decrepit,  than 
the  next.  On  the  ground  floor,  next  to  the  loge  du  concierge, 
was  a  wineshop,  smelling  of  last  night's  slops,  where  the  brown- 
aproned  proprietor  leaned  against  his  little  wooden  bar  and  filled 
new  bottles  with  the  dregs  that  had  not  been  drunk  the  day 
before  ;  next  to  the  wineshop  stood  a  cobbler's  stall,  with  the 
tap-tap  of  the  cobbler's  wooden  mallet  resounding  through  the 
street  to  the  courtyard  at  the  rear  ;  and  next  to  the  cobbler's, 
the  stall  of  a  marchand  des  frites,  whose  only  merchandise  was 
sliced  potatoes  fried  in  olive  oil. 

On  the  first  floor  was  the  appartement  of  the  wine-dealer  ; 
on  the  second  and  third,  logements  for  students' — students  who, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  25 

returning  nightly  from  the  cafes  of  the  Boul'  Mich',  enhvened  the 
aged  edifice  with  their  cries. 

And  on  the  fourth  floor  of  this  building,  on  this  twenty- 
second  day  of  October,  1844,  in  a  modest  fiat  of  three  rooms — 
bedroom,  sitting-room  and  kitchen- — was  born  the  baby  who 
afterwards  became  Sarah  Bernhardt. 

Her  mother,  then  a  beautiful  young  woman  in  her  late  teens, 
was  named  Julie  Bernard,  but  sometimes  she  called  herself 
Judith  Van  Hard.  Among  her  intimates  she  was  affectionately 
known  as  Youle. 

It  was  eight  o'clock  at  night.  Youle  was  lying  in  bed,  her 
mass  of  red-gold  hair  tumbling  over  her  shoulders  and  down 
under  the  sheets.  Her  eyes  of  sapphire-blue  were  closed,  and  her 
breathing  hard  and  spasmodic.  Her  features  were  drawn  ;  her 
face  pale. 

Three  other  persons  were  in  the  room.  One  was  a  man^ — 
the  doctor,  busy  packing  up  his  instruments.  The  other  was  a 
young  friend,  Madame  Guerard.  The  third  was  a  tiny  atom  of 
humanity,  barely  a  foot  long  and  weighing  certainly  not  more 
than  half  a  dozen  pounds.  This  infant's  head  was  covered  with 
a  fuzz  of  reddish  hair  resembling  the  mother's  ;  its  tiny  mouth 
was  open  and  its  little  lungs  were  working  at  top-blast. 

The  temper  for  which  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  later  to  become 
notorious  was  making  its  first  manifestation. 

The  delivery  had  been  difficult,  and  Julie  was  not  asleep  but 
unconscious.  Thus,  though  the  baby  cried  all  night,  the  mother 
did  not  awaken,  and  in  the  morning  Mme.  Guerard  sent  off  to  the 
nearest  synagogue  for  a  Jewish  priest. 

But    when    the    doctor    came    the  crisis   had  passed ;   the 

26  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

girl  on  the  bed  had  recovered  consciousness  and  was  already 
fondling  her  child.  From  then  on  her  recovery  was  rapid,  and 
before  little  Sarah  had  properly  got  her  blue  eyes  open  or  begun 
to  take  an  interest  in  things  around  her,  the  beautiful  httle  Jewish 
girl  was  back  at  her  work-table  in  the  sitting-room,  trimming  hats 
for  which  she  was  paid  a  few  sous  each  by  the  clients  whose 
houses  she  visited  in  turn  every  week. 

*Julie  Van  Hard,  or  Bernard,  was  a  Flemish  Jewess  born  of 
a  strugghng  lower-middle-class  family  in  BerHn.  Her  father, 
originally  from  South  Holland  but  a  naturalised  German,  had 
worked  in  a  circus,  but  had  forsaken  this  occupation  to  go  into 
the  retail  grain  and  seed  business,  first  in  Hanover  and  then  in 
Berlin.  Her  mother  was  a  German  dressmaker  and  a  great  beauty. 
When  JuUe  was  thirteen,  her  father  died  and  left  her  only  a  hand- 
ful of  marks  with  which  to  complete  her  education. 

Instead  of  doing  so  she  chose  to  leave  school,  and  became  an 
apprentice  in  a  big  Berlin  millinery  establishment.  '  After  working 
there  a  little  more  than  a  year,  she  fell  in  love  with  a  non-com- 
missioned officer  in  a  cavalry  regiment,  who  seduced  and  then 
callously  left  her.  When  the  affair  came  to  the  ears  of  the  girl's 
employer,  she  was  discharged  in  disgrace. 

After  that  she  left  Berhn  and  went  to  Frankfort,  where  she 
kept  herself  for  a  few  months  by  making  hats  (at  which  she  was 
very  clever)  and  singing  on  occasion  in  cafes-concert.  She  was 
a  lovely  child,  even  in  the  poor  dresses  she  could  afford,  and 
having  a  talent  for  music,  had  been  taught  the  piano  by  her 
mother.  She  displayed,  however,  httle  of  the  great  histrionic 
ability  which  was  to  develop  in  her  daughter.  In  fact,  Sarah 
Bernhardt  never  completely  satisfied  herself  from  which  side  of 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  27 

the  family  she  derived  her  talent.  Her  father's  relations,  from 
what  httle  she  learned  of  them,  were  comfortable,  mediocre  middle- 
class  people  in  the  French  provinces — with  German  or  Dutch 
connections,  to  be  sure,  but  with  no  "  acting  blood  "  as  far  as  she 
could  discover. 

The  Van  Hard  family,  however,  was  an  offshoot  of  the  Kins- 
berger  clan,  who  owned  circuses  and  theatres  in  Northern  Europe 
before  Napoleon's  day,  and  who  later  developed  into  wholesale 
dealers  in  grain.  When  Napoleon  invaded  Poland,  in  fact,  a 
Kinsberger  supplied  him  with  grain  for  his  horses.  The  exact 
relationship  of  this  Kinsberger  to  Sarah  she  never  properly  knew, 
but  he  was  probably  a  cousin  of  her  grandfather. 

Away  back  therefore  in  this  maternal  line,  there  probably 
existed  someone  with  a  talent  for  the  theatre.  Whether  the 
ancestor  in  question  ever  used  it  is  not  on  record.  We  know  that 
her  grandfather  was  a  performer  in  a  Dutch  circus,  but  we  do 
not  know  whether  he  was  a  clown  or  an  animal-tamer. 

Tn  Frankfort,  Julie  Bernard,  the  modiste,  met  a  young 
Frenchman,  a  courier  in  the  diplomatic  corps,  and  a  wild  love 
affair  followed,  which  culminated  in  the  girl  following  the  young 
man  to  Paris.  *  There  they  continued  their  liaison  for  less  than 
a  month,  however,  since  the  courier's  parents,  people  of  noble 
birth,  stepped  in  and  forbade  him  ever  to  see  the  little  German 
girl  again.  He  left  her  without  warning,  and  without  money. 
For  weeks  afterwards  little  Julie,  a  stranger  in  a  strange  land 
and  speaking  little  French,  lived  as  best  she  might.  Paris  is  a 
hard  city  now,  for  the  unprotected  girl ;  it  was  harder  then. 
Often  the  German  waif  came  perilously  near  starvation.  Once, 
according  to  a  story  that  she  later  on  in  life  related  to  Jeanne,  her 

28  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

second  daughter,  who  told  it  to  Sarah,  she  tried  to  commit 
suicide  by  throwing  herself  under  the  wheels  of  a  passing  coach. 
But  she  had  misjudged  the  distance  and  the  wheels  passed  within 
inches  of  her. 

What  she  did  to  eke  out  a  bare  living  in  those  terrible  days 
we  do  not  know.  It  is  unlikely  that  she  ever  confided  the  whole 
story  to  her  daughters' — even  to  Jeanne,  her  favourite.  What 
is  known  is  that  she  continued  to  make  hats  whenever  she  could 
save  sufficient  sous  to  buy  the  material,  and  perhaps  she  sang 
or  danced  in  the  cabarets  of  the  quarter  ;  but  this  is  unlikely, 
because  of  her  ignorance  of  French.  Whatever  she  did,  no  one 
now  can  blame  her. 

Eventually,  she  struck  up  an  acquaintance  with  a  law  student, 
who  was  registered  on  the  books  of  the  University  of  Paris  as 
Edouard  Bernhardt.  The  family  name  of  this  man,  according 
to  what  Sarah  learned  later,  was  de  Therard,  and  his  baptismal 
name  was  "  Paul."'. 

The  exact  reasons  for  the  dual  nomenclature  I  cannot  give. 
Sarah  herself  knew  of  the  matter  only  vaguely.  I  suggested  that 
de  Therard  was  the  student's  right  name,  but  that  he  carried  on 
his  liaison  with  Julie  under  the  name  of  Bernhardt.  Sarah 
admitted  this  was  a  plausible  inference,  but  insisted  that 
the  attorney  for  her  father's  estate  always  referred  to  him  as 

Bernhardt,  or  de  Therard,  was  one  of  the  wildest  youngsters 
in  the  Latin  Quarter.  He  was  constantly  getting  into  scrapes^ 
which  his  family  at  Le  Havre  had  to  pay  for.  Many  of  these 
scrapes  were  with  women  much  older  than  himself,  and  I'aventure 
amour euse  was  probably  his  strong' — or  weak- — point.     At  any 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  29 

rate,  he  succeeded  in  studying  as  little  law  as  possible,  for  he 
failed  completely  in  all  his  examinations. 

Where  he  and  Julie  met  is  unknown  ;  probably  it  was  a 
simple  rencontre  de  la  rue,  which  is  common  enough  in  Paris  to-day. 
The  nature  of  Julie's  trade,  when  delivering  her  hats  to  her 
customers,  took  her  frequently  into  the  streets  of  the  quarter  in 
which  young  Bernhardt  was  studying  and  in  which  he  prosecuted 
his  love  affairs.  It  is  likely  that,  seeing  a  marvellously  pretty 
girl  (of  a  type  then  unusual  in  Paris) ,  walking  along  the  Boul'  Mich' , 
he  followed  her  and,  being  of  the  handsome,  devil-may-care  type, 
pleased  her  so  that  she  agreed  to  meet  him  again. 

Be  that  as  it  may,  the  link  between  the  little  German  girl  and 
the  reckless  Havre  student  soon  became  public  enough.  Their 
appearance  in  any  of  the  cafes  or  cabarets  of  the  quarter  was  the 
signal  for  a  chorus  of  congratulations  and  ironical  greetings 
from  Bernhardt's  comrades. 

The  little  flat  at  Number  5,  rue  de  I'Ecole  de  Medecine,  was 
furnished  and  rented  by  Bernhardt  for  Julie,  out  of  his  slender 
student's  purse. 

Two  weeks  before  the  birth  of  his  child,  Bernhardt  returned 
to  Havre. 

He  wrote  ardent  letters  to  the  forsaken  mother  and  sent 
regular  sums  for  the  child's  support.  Sometimes  he  visited 
Paris,  but  rarely  remained  there  longer  than  twenty-four  hours. 
As  his  financial  circumstances  improved,  for  relatives  bequeathed 
him  fairly  large  sums,  he  began  to  travel,  and  before  his  first 
voyage,  to  Portugal,  he  suggested  that  the  infant  Sarah  should  be 
sent  to  his  own  old  nurse,  now  become  a  professional  dry-nurse, 
with  a  farm  near  Quimperle,  in  Brittany. 

30  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

About  this  time  Julie's  fortunes  underwent  a  sudden  change 
for  the  better.  This  came  about  through  several  circumstances 
which  occurred  within  a  few  weeks  of  each  other.  First,  a 
relative  of  the  young  girl  died  in  Holland,  and  bequeathed  to  her 
and  each  of  her  three  sisters  an  equal  number  of  guelders.  The 
sum  was  not  large,  but  it  sufficed  to  lift  Julie  above  immediate 
want.  She  went  to  Holland  to  claim  the  money,  and  was  gone 
six  months. 

A  few  days  after  the  legacy  reached  her,  she  discovered  to 
her  astonishment  that  one  of  her  sisters,  Rosine,  who  was  her 
elder  by  four  years  and  who  was  supposedly  in  Marseilles,  was  in 
reality  living  in  Paris.  How  she  was  living  is  rather  a  mystery. 
But  she  seemed  to  be  well  off,  and  she  had  been  long  enough  in 
France  to  speak  the  language  excellently. 

When  Julie  returned  from  Holland,  she  came  by  way  of  Berlin 
and  brought  with  her  Henriette,  her  younger  sister,  then  aged 
thirteen.  There  was  still  another  sister,  two  years  younger,  and 
another  aged  twenty-eight,  who  was  married  and  who  lived  in  the 
French  West  Indies. 

Julie  and  Henriette,  when  they  arrived  in  Paris,  went  to  live 
with  Rosine,  who  had  a  flat  in  Montmartre.  With  baby  Sarah 
safely  in  the  country,  in  charge  of  a  capable  nurse,  and  with 
funds  for  the  child's  upkeep  provided  by  the  father,  Julie  felt 
free  to  look  around. 

She  was  a  remarkable  woman  by  this  time.  Eighteen  years 
old,  very  fair,  with  a  marvellous  complexion  and  the  wonder- 
ful head  of  hair  that  was  to  make  her  renowned  later  on,  Julie 
Bernard  possessed  a  gay  and  careless  disposition  that  would  have 
made  her    notorious    anywhere.     With  her  sisters,   she   began 





^  ^  ^   U  >    )^    H^ 









•  I— « 






Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  31 

frequenting  the  cafes  that  were  then  fashionable,  and  it  was  not 
long  before  the  trio  began  to  meet  interesting  people. 

Among  these  acquaintances  was  a  man  whom  Sarah  herself 
always  referred  to  as  "  Baron  Larrey,"  but  who  was  probably 
another  man  of  title  with  a  similar  name.  Baron  Larrey  and 
Julie  became  first  friends,  then  lovers,  and  the  relationship 
lasted  five  years. 

Far  behind  her  now  the  dingy,  decrepit  old  building  at 
5,  rue  de  I'Ecole  de  Medecine  !  Far  behind  her  the  days  when  she 
had  to  trudge  weary  miles,  in  all  weathers,  to  secure  orders  and 
deliver  hats  !  Julie  was  now  a  "  fille  a  la  mode."  She  flaunted  the 
latest  fashions,  the  latest  colours,  the  latest  millinery  on  the 
Boulevards  and  in  the  exclusive  restaurants.  Her  relationship 
with  the  Baron  commanded  for  her  a  certain  respect  in  the  gay, 
care-free  Bohemian  world  that  was  the  Paris  of  1845.  Nobles  at 
Court  commenced  to  be  interested  in  her.  Famous  personages 
of  the  stage  consented  to  sit  at  her  table. 

She  soon  eclipsed  in  beauty  and  in  accomplishments  her 
less  endowed  sisters,  although  they  too  formed  wealthy  and 
prominent  relationships. 

All  three  sisters  loved  to  travel.  Julie  took  the  younger  one 
on  many  voyages  throughout  Europe,  and  Rosine  made  regular 
pilgrimages  to  Germany  to  the  famous  spas. 

While  Julie  lived  the  gay,  irresponsible  life  of  a  Parisian 
butterfly,  her  daughter  Sarah,  a  weak,  anaemic  child,  cursed  with 
a  terrific  temper,  remained  on  the  farm  in  Brittany. 

When  she  was  nearly  two  years  old  she  was  still  in  her  "  first 
steps  "  ;  she  did  not  begin  to  learn  to  walk  until  she  was  fourteen 
months  old.     Her  nurse,  who  had  married  again,  had  other  duties 

32  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

about  the  farm  and  could  give  scant  attention  to  the  little  one 
during  the  day.  In  order  to  keep  her  quiet,  the  nurse  got  her 
husband  to  build  a  little  chair,  in  which  the  baby  was  fastened 
with  a  strap.  This  was  then  pushed  against  a  table,  so  that  the 
child  could  amuse  herself  with  pieces  of  coloured  paper — the 
only  toys  Sarah  Bernhardt  knew  until  she  was  three  years  old. 

One  day  the  woman  set  her  in  the  chair  as  usual  but  neglected 
to  fasten  the  strap,  and  the  baby,  leaning  forward  to  catch  some- 
thing, fell  from  the  high  chair  and  into  the  wide,  Breton  fireplace, 
in  which  a  log  fire  was  burning.  Her  screams  brought  the  nurse 
and  her  husband  running.  The  nurse  picked  her  up  and  plunged 
her  bodily,  flaming  clothes  and  all,  into  a  huge  tub  of  milk  which 
was  waiting  to  be  churned. 

Doctors  were  sent  for  from  a  neighbouring  village  and  hasty 
messages  sent  to  Paris.  The  only  one  of  the  sisters  to  be  found 
was  Rosine,  who  sent  a  message  to  Julie  at  Brussels,  and  herself 
hurried  to  Brittany.  Four  days  later  Julie  arrived  in  Baron 
Larrey's  coach,  which  had  been  driven  at  top  speed  all  the  way 
from  Paris. 

From  this  incident  grew  Sarah's  nickname,  which  remained 
with  her  all  her  childhood,  "  Flower-of-the-Milk."  She  was 
three  months  recovering  from  the  severe  burns  she  had  sustained, 
and  until  she  died  she  bore  scars  to  remind  her  of  the  accident. 

'For  ever  after,  Sarah  Bernhardt  had  a  horror  of  fire.  She 
could  not  bear  even  to  look  at  one,  and  would  shiver  and  turn 
pale  when  she  heard  the  trumpets  and  bells  of  the  fire  brigade. 
Yet  mother-love  conquered  this  fear  when,  nearly  twenty  years 
later,  her  flat  took  fire  and  she  dashed  through  a  barrage  of  flames 
to  rescue  her  own  baby  boy. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  33 

*  When  little  Sarah  recovered,  Julie  proposed  to  the  nurse, 
now  a  widow,  that  she  should  leave  the  Breton  farm  and  hve  in 
Paris  in  a  cottage  Baron  Larrey  had  taken  on  the  borders  of  the 
Seine,  at  Neuilly.  The  nurse  agreed,  and  a  new  existence  began 
for  the  child  on  the  fringe  of  the  city,  where  her  mother  was 
earning  a  reputation  as  a  gilded  social  butterfly.  ' 


34  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


During  the  year  which  followed  transfer  of  nurse  and  child  to 
Neuilly-sur-Seine  Sarah  saw  her  mother  but  once,  and  then  merely 
by  chance. 

Returning  from  a  gay  court  party  near  St.  Germain  the  coach, 
in  which  Julie  was  travelling  with  a  resplendent  personage  the 
Comte  de  Tours,  broke  down  just  after  it  had  crossed  the  bridge 
over  the  Seine  and  reached  the  outskirts  of  Neuilly.  The  nearest 
coach-builder  was  a  mile  distant,  and  while  the  coachman  walked 
this  distance,  Julie  bethought  herself  of  the  neglected  child 
living  only  a  few  streets  away.  So  she  and  the  Count  daintily 
picked  their  way  to  the  cottage,  and  found  Sarah  revelling  in 
her  bi-weekly  bath. 

This  bath  was  an  extraordinary  affair,  because  it  took  place  in 
the  same  tub  as  the  family  washing- — and  probably  other  washing 
that  the  nurse  solicited  in  order  to  eke  out  her  income.  On 
the  principle  of  killing  two  birds  with  one  stone,  the  nurse  would 
make  a  warm  tub  of  soap-suds,  put  the  linen  to  be  washed  into  it, 
and  then  hoist  in  baby  Sarah  ! 

The  sight  amused  the  Count  and  infuriated  Julie,  who  gave 
the  nurse  a  sound  scolding.  Sarah  was  hastily  taken  from  the 
tub,  dried,  clothed  and  then  handed  to  her  fastidious  mother, 
who  fondled  her  in  a  gingerly  way.  But  the  baby  failed  to  recog- 
nise the  mother  who  had  sacrificed  so  little  for  her  sake,  and  burst 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  35 

into  a  storm  of  tears,  pounding  the  finely-dressed  lady  with  her 
puny  little  fists. 

The  Count  thought  it  a  fine  joke,  and  laughed  uproariously. 
"  She  is  just  like  her  mother,  Youle  !  "  he  remarked,  twirling 
his  fine  moustache. 

Julie  handed  her  tempestuous  child  back  to  the  nurse, 

"  If  that  is  the  way  she  behaves  when  her  mother  comes  to 
see  her,"  she  said,  "  I  shall  not  come  again." 

She  kept  her  word  to  such  good  purpose  that,  eighteen  months 
later,  when  the  nurse  married  for  a  third  time,  and  desired 
to  take  the  child  with  her  to  her  new  home,  letters  to  Julie's 
address  were  returned  undelivered.  The  errant  mother  had  not 
even  thought  it  worth  her  while  to  keep  her  child's  nurse  informed 
of  her  movements. 

The  nurse's  new  husband  was  a  concierge,  one  of  those  indis- 
pensable people  who  open  the  doors  of  Paris  buildings,  lose  letters, 
clean  stairs,  quarrel  with  flat-owners,  and  generally  make  them- 
selves as  much  of  a  nuisance  as  possible.  This  particular  speci- 
men was  a  big,  upstanding  man  with  sandy  hair,  about  forty 
years  of  age,  or  ten  years  younger  than  his  bride. 

He  was  then  concierge  at  Number  65,  rue  de  Provence,  in 
the  heart  of  Paris,  near  where  the  Galeries  Lafayette,  the  great 
stores,  now  stand.  It  was  a  dingy  building,  mostly  devoted  to 
commerce,  and  the  concierge  occupied  one  room  on  the  first  floor. 
This  one  room  was  bedroom,  sitting-room  and  kitchen  combined. 

There  was  only  one  bed,  a  big  four-poster,  jammed  against 
the  window.  There  was  also  one  kitchen  table,  on  which  he  ate 
his  meals  ;  two  chairs  in  varying  stages  of  decrepitude  ;  a  small 
coal  stove  screened  from  the  bed  by  a  heavy  velvet  curtain — 

36  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

soiled  legacy  of  some  opulent  tenant' — and  another  small  table, 
on  which  stood  a  wash-basin  and  pail.  When  water  was  wanted 
it  was  necessary  to  fetch  it  from  a  pump  in  the  street. 

It  was  into  this  sordid  environment  that  little  Sarah,  "  Flower- 
of-the-Milk,"  now  almost  five  years  old,  was  brought  willy-nilly 
by  her  foster-mother.  There  was  no  room  to  put  a  cot  for 
the  child,  so  she  shared  a  fraction  of  the  bed.  She  was  quickly 
put  to  work  by  her  new  lord,  who  soon  initiated  her  into  the 
mysteries  of  floor-washing  and  door-knob  polishing,  while  it 
was  generally  la  petite  Sarah,  when  water  was  wanted,  who  was 
commissioned  to  stagger  down  the  stairs  with  the  empty  pail 
and  return  with  the  full  one. 

Living  with  two  adults  in  this  ill-ventilated,  badly-lighted 
room — the  sole  window  was  one  about  twice  the  size  of  a  ship's 
port-hole — and  forced  to  do  work  which  might  well  have  proved 
too  much  for  a  child  twice  her  age,  it  is  small  wonder  that  Sarah 
was  frequently  ill. 

She  lost  appetite  and  colour,  and  grew  weak,  while  the  anaemia, 
which  the  bracing  air  of  the  country  had  almost  cured,  returned. 
Her  eyes  grew  listless  and  had  large  puffs  under  them,  so  that 
neighbours,  who  pitied  the  child,  prophesied  that  her  days  would 
soon  be  over. 

Her  only  playmate,  almost  as  unhappy  as  herself,  was  another 
httle  girl  named  Titine,  the  daughter  of  a  working  jeweller,  who 
lived  on  the  floor  above  ;  her  playgrounds  were  the  busy  streets 
of  Paris  ;  her  language  the  argot  of  the  slums.  No  one  dreamed 
of  sending  her  to  school,  which  was  not  then  compulsory. 

There  is  very  little  doubt  that  the  world  would  never  have 
known  Sarah  Bernhardt  if  this  state  of  affairs  had  lasted  another 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  37 

year.  The  child  was  fast  going  into  tuberculosis,  and  could  not 
even  summon  strength  for  the  fits  of  temper  that  had  distinguished 
her  up  till  this  time. 

I  have  said  that  her  only  playmate  was  Titine,  the  daughter  of 
the  jeweller,  but  there  was  another  for  a  month  or  so — the  son 
of  the  butcher  at  the  street  corner. 

One  afternoon  the  janitor's  wife  returned  from  an  errand  and 
heard  screams  coming  from  the  loge.  Hastening  there  she  dis- 
covered the  butcher's  son,  aged  six,  stripped  to  the  waist,  and  the 
diminutive  Sarah  laying  on  to  him  with  a  strap. 

"  I  am  playing  at  being  a  Spaniard,"  she  said  in  explanation, 
Spaniards  having  then  a  great  reputation  in  France  for  cruelty. 
The  incident  is  interesting  in  the  light  of  later  incidents  in  her 
career,  when  charges  of  callousness  and  cruelty  were  brought 
against  her.  For  myself  I  have  never  doubted  that  a  streak  of 
the  primitive  existed  in  Sarah.  But,  unlike  others,  I  believe  that 
she  was  the  better  for  it,  for  out  of  it  grew  her  single-mindedness 
and  her  will  to  conquer. 

During  all  this  time  Sarah's  mother  gave  no  sign  of  life, 
despite  repeated  efforts  on  the  part  of  the  old  nurse  to  find  her. 
In  fact,  the  child's  board  had  not  been  paid  for  nearly  two  years 
and,  with  her  delicate  health,  she  was  becoming  a  charge  which 
the  couple  could  ill  afford.  Deliverance  from  this  state  of  affairs 
came  unexpectedly.  One  day  Rosine,  Sarah's  aunt,  paid  a  visit 
to  a  neighbouring  house.  Sarah,  who  was  playing  in  the  court- 
yard of  the  building  at  the  moment  her  aunt  arrived,  immediately 
recognised  her,  although  the  two  had  not  met  for  more  than  a 

"  Tante  Rosine  !    Tante  Rosine  !  " 

38  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

The  extravagantly  dressed  woman  turned,  hardly  believing 
her  ears. 

"  It  is  not  ?• — why,  it  is  Sarah,  the  daughter  of  my  sister 
Youle  !  " 

"  Yes,  yes  !  It  is  I,  Sarah  !  Oh,  take  me  away^ — take  me 
away  !  They  suffocate  me,  these  walls^ — always  walls  !  I  cannot 
see  the  sky  !  Take  me  away  !  I  want  to  see  the  sky  again,  and 
the  flowers.  .  .  !  " 

Sarah's  cries  had  attracted  a  crowd,  and  much  confused  Rosine 
hurried  the  child  into  the  concierge's  room,  and  was  there  over- 
whelmed by  the  old  nurse's  explanations. 

Something  seemed  to  tell  Sarah  that  she  was  not  to  be  taken 
away  at  that  moment. 

"  Oh,  take  me  with  you— take  me  with  you  !  I  shall  die 
here !  " 

It  was  the  cry  of  a  desperate  child  fighting  for  her  life,  and  it 
visibly  wrenched  at  the  heart  of  Tante  Rosine.  Yet' — take  her 
with  her  ?  How  could  she  ?  What  would  her  friend,  the  com- 
panion whom  she  lived  with  and  who  paid  for  her  fine  gowns  and 
hats,  say,  if  she  brought  home  this  little  child  of  the  gutter  ? 

"  Well,"  she  conceded,  as  the  woe-begone  child  clung  con- 
vulsively to  her  skirt,  "  I  wiU  come  back  to-morrow,  and  take 
you  away." 

But  with  that  curious  intuition  that  characterises  most 
children,  Sarah  sensed  that  she  was  about  to  be  abandoned  for  a 
third  time.  She  flung  herself  on  the  bed,  sobbing,  as  her  nurse 
accompanied  her  aunt  down  the  stairs  to  the  street  below,  where 
a  fine  equipage  of  boxwood  and  plush,  prancing  horses  and  liveried 
footmen  was  in  waiting. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  39 

Rosine  got  into  her  carriage,  dabbing  a  lace  handkerchief  at 
her  eyes.  She  had  a  tender  heart  and  was  firmly  resolved  to 
write  to  Youle  at  once — Julie  was  in  London — and  make  her  take 
her  child. 

The  footman  regained  his  seat,  the  coachman  clucked  to  his 
horses  and  the  equipage  moved  away.  But  before  it  had  gone  two 
feet  there  was  a  heartrending  wail  and  shriek,  followed  by  a 
chorus  of  affrighted  shouts,  and  a  body  came  hurtling  past  the 
coach  to  the  pavement.  It  was  Sarah.  The  child  had  attempted 
to  jump  from  the  tiny  first-floor  window  into  the  coach  as  it 

When  Sarah  awoke  she  found  herself  in  a  great,  clean  bed, 
surrounded  by  kind  faces.  She  was  at  the  home  of  her  aunt  in 
the  rue  St.  Honore.  She  had  a  double  fracture  of  her  right  arm, 
and  a  sprained  left  ankle. 

Julie,  who  was  sent  for  immediately,  arrived  three  days  later, 
together  with  numerous  other  members  of  Sarah's  family.  For 
the  first  time  in  her  brief  existence,  Sarah  found  herself  a  person 
of  importance. 

For  the  next  two  years  little  Sarah  was  an  invalid,  capable  of 
walking  only  a  step  or  two  at  a  time.  She  passed  this  period 
sitting  in  a  great  arm-chair,  unable  to  move  without  pain,  dream- 
ing childish  dreams  of  splendour  for  the  future. 

"  Never  once,"  said  Sarah  in  speaking  of  this  period  to  me, 
"  did  I  include  in  those  dreams  a  suspicion  that  I  would  one  day 
be  an  actress.  I  had  never  seen  the  inside  of  a  theatre,  and  al- 
though many  actors  and  actresses  were  among  the  friends  con- 
stantly in  and  out  of  my  mother's  home  at  22,  rue  de  la  Micho- 
difere — a  rather  meretriciously  furnished  flat  with  gilded  salons 

40  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

and  musty  bedrooms — I  was  shy  with  them  and  they  with  me, 
and  learned  httle  from  their  conversation. 

"  In  fact,  the  stage  and  all  appertaining  to  it  remained  a  deep 
mystery  to  me  for  nearly  ten  years  after  my  accident.  My 
actual  going  on  the  stage  was  an  accident — or  rather  the  solu- 
tion of  a  problem  which  had  worried  my  mother  almost  to 

How  this  came  about  will  be  described  in  a  later  chapter. 

At  seven  years  of  age,  Sarah  Bernhardt  had  so  far  recovered 
that  she  could  walk  and  move  without  difficulty,  and  there  was 
serious  discussion  about  sending  her  to  school.  Her  volatile 
mother,  absent  for  the  most  part  during  Sarah's  convalescence, 
nevertheless  resented  the  presence  of  the  child  in  her  home 
as  irksome,  and  chafed  to  place  her  where  she  would  be  in 
good  hands  and  could  do  without  maternal  supervision  and 

As  a  matter  of  fact,  at  the  age  of  seven  Sarah  could  neither 
read  nor  write,  and  had  never  heard  of  arithmetic  ! 

When  her  mother  explained  that  she  was  to  go  to  live  in  a 
place  where  there  were  hundreds  of  other  little  girls,  who  were  to 
become  her  playmates,  Sarah  was  overjoyed.  During  the  terrible 
two  years  when  she  could  not  run  about  like  other  children, 
Sarah  had  had  no  playmates  whatever  ;  and,  during  her  airings 
in  her  mother's  or  her  aunt's  carriage,  had  often  wistfully  watched 
other  and  luckier  little  girls  rolling  hoops  along  the  gravelled  paths 
of  the  Champs  Elysees,  or  in  the  fields  which  then  fringed  what 
is  now  the  Boulevard  de  Clichy.  She  had  been  an  intensely 
lonely  child  from  her  infancy  and  could  scarcely  contain  her 
happiness  at  the  thought  that  at  last  she  was  to  be  as  other 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  41 

children,  and  have  httle  friends  with  whom  she  could  talk  and  play 
as  an  equal. 

Probably  the  main  reason  for  sending  Sarah  away  at  this 
juncture  was  the  fact  that  Julie  was  again  about  to  become  a 

It  may  be  as  well  to  state  here  that  Julie  Bernhardt  was  the 
mother  of  four  children  including  a  boy  who  died.  Sarah  was  the 
first,  Jeanne  the  second,  and  Regine  the  third.  More  will  be  told 
hereafter  concerning  these  two  turbulent  sisters  of  the  actress. 
They  both  lived  unfortunate  lives  and  died  still  more  unfortunate 

A  report  of  Sarah's  parentage  that  has  won  considerable 
credence  was  published  by  a  weekly  Paris  newspaper  in  1886, 
and  re-published  again  as  recently  as  April  8,  1923,  by  La  Rampe, 
a  Paris  theatrical  paper,     I  quote  from  the  latter  : 

"  Edouard  Bernhardt,  grandfather  of  Sarah  Bernhardt,  was 
a  Jew.  He  fulfilled  the  functions  of  chief  ocuHst  to  the  Court  of 
Austria.  He  came  to  St.  Aubin-du-Corbier,  in  Brittany,  and 
there  married  the  Marquise  de  la  Thieul6  du  Petit-Bois  de  la 
Vieuville,  by  whom  he  had  four  daughters  and  one  son  :  Julie, 
Rosine,  Agathe,  Vitty  and  Edouard.  The  Marquise  died  and 
Edouard  Bernhardt  married,  secondly,  Madame  Van  Berinth, 
who  had  been  governess  to  his  children.  Rosine  and  Juhe 
(mother  of  Sarah  Bernhardt)  ran  away  to  Havre,  where  they 
obtained  work  as  saleswomen  in  a  confectionery  establishment. 
Their  father  sent  for  them,  and  they  fled  to  London.  Shortly 
afterwards  they  returned  to  Havre,  where  Julie  lived  as  the  wife 
of  a  man   named   Morel,    a   ship-builder.     They  had   fourteen 

42  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

children,   of  whom  Sarah,   born   at   Paris,    125,   Faubourg   St. 
Honor^,  on  October  23,  1840,  was  one." 

This  seems  circumstantial  but  it  is  absolutely  inaccurate. 
I  give  it  here,  together  with  the  evidence  to  contravert  it,  because 
so  many  people  believe  the  above  to  be  the  true  story  of  Sarah's 

The  rebutting  evidence  consists,  first,  in  Sarah's  own  denial, 
which  was  published  almost  immediately  after  the  story  itself, 
and,  secondly,  in  the  fact  that  the  certificate  of  her  baptism, 
in  which  the  truth  was  certainly  given,  states  that  she  was  born, 
not  in  the  Faubourg  St.  Honore,  but  in  the  rue  de  I'Ecole  de 
Medecine— not  on  October  23,  1840,  but  on  October  22,  1844  ; 
that  her  father  was  not  "  Monsieur  Morel,"  but  George  Bernhardt ; 
and  that  her  mother  was  not  "  Julie  Bernhardt "  but  Juhe  Van 

And,  as  I  have  said,  Julie  had  only  four  children,  not 
fourteen  ! 

The  same  paper  {La  Rampe)  says  that  Sarah  was  baptised 
at  the  age  of  eight  years.  When  she  was  eight,  Sarah  was  still 
a  Jewess  and  at  the  school  of  which  we  shall  shortly  give  an 
account.  Sarah  was  baptised,  under  the  name  of  Rosine,  five 
years  later,  at  the  Grandchamps  Convent,  Versailles. 

When  she  was  seven,  then,  and  five  months  before  Jeanne 
was  born,  Sarah  was  taken  to  Madame  Fressard's  school,  at 
18,  rue  Boileau,  Auteuil.  The  building  still  exists,  but  it  has 
been  turned  into  a  private  sanatorium. 

The  journey  to  Auteuil,  which  one  can  now  make  from  the 
rue  St.  Honor^  in  twenty  minutes  by  underground  railway  or 




Sketch    of   Therese  Meilhan  (afterwards    Mme.  Pierre    Berton)   by 

Georges  Clairin,  1881. 

p.  42. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  43 

in  half  an  hour  by  tramway  or  motor-bus,  was  then  quite  a 
formidable  affair.  Paris  was  left  behind  at  the  Avenue  Montaigne, 
and  from  there  the  way  lay  along  the  banks  of  the  smihng  Seine, 
with  only  a  roadside  estaminet  bordering  what  is  now  one  of  the 
most  aristocratic  streets  of  aU  Paris.  It  took  over  an  hour  for 
the  coach  to  reach  the  rue  Boileau,  in  the  little  village  of  Auteuil. 
Sarah,  needless  to  say,  was  enchanted  with  the  journey  and  with 
the  happy  prospects  ahead  of  her. 

It  was  quite  a  ceremony,  the  installation  of  Sarah  in  her 
new  home.  Besides  Julie  and  Aunt  Rosine,  there  was  a  General 
and  another  man,  who  represented  Sarah's  father,  then  absent 
in  Lisbon.  They  were  very  pompous  and  important,  and  inclined 
to  exaggerate  the  wealth  that  was  so  evident  in  the  rich  trappings 
of  Aunt  Rosine's  coach. 

After  much  talk  and  negotiation,  during  which  the  party 
gathered  around  a  bottle  of  wine  opened  by  Madame  Fressard, 
Sarah  was  formally  entered  on  the  books  of  the  school  as  a  pupil. 

Amongst  other  things  Julie  insisted  on  presenting  Madame 
Fressard  with  eight  large  jars  of  cold  cream,  with  which  she  gave 
orders  that  Sarah  was  to  be  massaged  every  morning.  Another 
order  concerned  Sarah's  mass  of  curly  hair.  It  was  not  to  be 
cut  or  trimmed  in  any  way,  but  to  be  carefully  combed  night  and 
morning.  And  when  Madame  Fressard  ventured  a  slight  protest 
at  all  these  injunctions,  Julie  only  waved  her  hand  with  a  large 
gesture,  saying  : 

"  You  will  be  paid — her  father  is  wealthy  !  " 

The  exact  sum  contributed  by  George  Bernhardt  towards 
Sarah's  maintenance  was  four  thousand  francs  annually. 

During  aU  the  conversation  that  attended  her  installation 

44  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

as  a  pupil  at  the  Auteuil  school,  Sarah  remained  mute,  too  shy 
to  say  a  word. 

"  What  a  stupid  child  !  "  said  Aunt  Rosine,  who  was  years 
before  she  gained  a  very  high  opinion  of  Sarah. 

"  Naturally  stupid,  I'm  afraid  !  "  sighed  her  mother,  languidly. 

Only  Madame  Fressard,  the  stranger  in  the  group,  came  to 
the  forlorn  little  creature's  aid  : 

"  Well,  she  has  your  eyes — so  intelligent,  madame  !  "  she 

And  with  this  the  party  left  in  their  flamboyant  coach,  each 
scrupulously  kissing  the  child  farewell  at  the  gate,  and  each, 
without  any  doubt  at  all,  exceedingly  glad  to  be  rid  of  her. 

Sarah  was  at  last  at  school. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  45 


In  later  years  it  was  fairly  well  known  amongst  theatrical  people 
that  Sarah  was  subject  to  "  stage  fright."  The  only  occasion 
however  on  which  nerves  actually  stopped  her  performance, 
occurred  at  Auteuil  school,  when  she  was  eight  years  and  three 
months  old.  Sarah  told  this  story  to  me  on  one  memorable  day 
at  Ville  d'Avray,  when,  during  a  fete  given  by  the  Grand  Duke 
Peter  of  Russia,  we  had  stolen  away  from  the  crowd  into  Belle vue 
woods.     I  have  never  seen  the  incident  referred  to  in  print. 

"  I  had  been  at  the  school  a  little  more  than  a  year,"  Sarah 
told  me,  "  when  it  was  decided  to  give  a  performance  of  Clotilde, 
a  play  for  children,  which  concerned  a  little  girl's  adventures  in 
fairyland.  Stella  Colas,  afterwards  the  wife  of  Pierre  de  Corvin, 
was  cast  for  the  name  part.  Another  httle  fair  girl  (whose 
name  I  have  forgotten)  was  to  play  the  role  of  Augustine,  the 
partner  of  Clotilde.  And  I  was  cast  for  the  part  of  the  Queen  of 
the  Fairies. 

"  At  the  rehearsals — we  rehearsed  all  the  winter— everything 
went  well.  My  part  was  not  an  important  one,  but  it  involved 
some  pretty  realistic  acting  in  the  second  act,  when  the  Queen 
of  the  Fairies  dies  of  mortification  on  hearing  Clotilde  affirm 
that  the  fairies  do  not  really  exist.  This  was  the  first  '  death 
scene  '  in  which  I  ever  acted.  • 

"  I  wore  wings,  of  course,  and  many  rehearsals  were  neces- 

46  Sarah  Bernhardt  As  I  Knew  Her 

sary  before  the  stage-manager,  who  was  our  kindergarten 
teacher,  could  get  me  to  fall  without  breaking  them.  Finally  I 
learned  the  part,  and  managed  to  do  it  to  the  entire  satisfaction 
of  everyone. 

"  When  the  great  night  came,  we  were,  of  course,  all  very 
nervous,  myself  most  of  all,  for  my  mother  and  two  aunts  had 
written  that  they  would  be  present  accompanied  by  no  less  a 
personage  than  the  Due  de  Morny,  then  considered  to  be  the 
power  behind  Napoleon  the  Third's  throne. 

"  Before  the  curtain  went  up,  my  knees  were  knocking  to- 
gether and  I  felt  a  wild  desire  to  fly.  I  tried  to  run  away  and 
hide,  in  fact,  but  the  teacher  found  me,  petted  me  and  made  me 
promise  to  go  on  with  the  part. 

"  I  had  nothing  to  do  until  the  end  of  the  fu-st  act,  when 
Clotilde  and  Augustine  fall  asleep  at  the  foot  of  a  great  tree  and 
dream  of  the  fairies.  My  part  was  to  descend  from  the  tree, 
assisted  by  unseen  wires,  float  to  the  middle  of  the  stage,  and  then 
pronounce  the  words  :  '  On  demande  la  reine  des  reves  ?  Me 
void ! '     {'  They  want  the  Queen  of  Dreams  ?     Here  I  am  !  ') 

"  Clotilde  and  Augustine  fell  asleep,  and  trembling  all  over  I 
floated  down  and  advanced  to  the  front  of  the  stage.  We  had 
no  regular  footlights,  and  everyone  in  the  little  auditorium  could 
be  distinguished  from  the  stage. 

"  Instead  of  pronouncing  the  sentence  about  the  Queen  of 
Dreams,  I  stood  tongue-tied,  unable  to  utter  a  syllable.  Several 
times  my  mouth  opened,  and  I  tried  to  speak,  but  the  words  would 
not  come.  All  the  time  I  was  anxiously  searching  the  audience 
for  familiar  faces.  It  was  only  when  I  saw  none,  and  realised 
that  my  mother  was  not  present,  that  I  managed  to  stutter  : 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  47 

"  '  On  d-d-dem-m-m-mande  la  reine  d-des  rives  ?  M-m-me 
void ! ' 

"  The  last  word  I  uttered  in  one  breathless  syllable  ;  then 
rushed  off  the  stage  to  the  accompaniment  of  much  amused 

"  In  the  wings  of  the  tiny  stage  I  was  met  by  the  principal 
of  the  school,  who,  affecting  not  to  notice  my  embarrassment, 
complimented  me  warmly  on  my  '  success,'  and  then  told  me  that 
my  mother  and  her  party  had  not  arrived.  This,  more  than  any- 
thing else,  gave  me  the  necessary  courage  to  go  through  with 
my  part. 

"  Even  in  later  years  when  I  was  on  the  regular  stage,  the 
presence  of  my  mother  in  an  audience  invariably  made  me  so 
nervous  that  I  could  hardly  play.  She  was  ever  the  harshest 
critic  I  had  ! 

"  The  second  act  proceeded  fairly  well,  since  it  was  chiefly  a 
dance  by  the  fairies,  with  myself  in  the  centre,  wielding  a  mystic 
sceptre.  All  I  had  to  do  was  wave  the  sceptre,  and  the  fairies 
would  bow  as  it  was  raised  and  lowered.  Finally  came  the  big 
moment  when  Clotilde  awakens,  and  says  :  '  Pshaw,  I  was  dream- 
ing ;   there  are  no  such  things  as  fairies  !  ' 

"  With  these  words  I  was  supposed  to  stop  and  wave  my 
sceptre  indignantly,  on  which  all  the  other  fairies  disappeared, 
leaving  me  alone  with  Clotilde  and  the  sleeping  Augustine.  Clo- 
tilde advances  to  me  and  asks  :  '  Who  are  you  ?  '  To  my  reply 
'  I  am  the  Queen  of  the  Fairies,'  she  answers  scornfully  :  '  You 
are  a  fraud,  for  there  are  no  such  things  as  fairies.' 

"  When  she  utters  these  words  I  stagger  and  then,  moaning 
and  clasping  my  hand  to  my  heart,  sink  slowly  to  the  ground. 

48  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Clotilde,  agonised,  asks  :  '  What  is  the  matter  ?  '  and  I  reply  : 
*  You  have  killed  me,  for  when  a  little  girl  says  she  doesn't  believe 
in  the  fairies,  she  mortally  wounds  their  Queen.' 

"  We  had  got  as  far  as  my  reply  '  I  am  the  Queen,'  when  sud- 
denly I  perceived,  in  the  front  row  of  the  audience,  six  beauti- 
fully-gowned ladies  and  two  gentlemen,  who  had  not  been  there 
before.  In  trepidation  I  searched  their  faces,  standing  stock-still 
and  not  listening  to  Clotilde's  scornful  reply.  Yes  !  There  was 
my  mother,  and  there  were  my  two  aunts,  as  I  had  feared  ! 

"  All  my  stage-fright  came  back  to  me.  And,  instead  of 
sinking  to  the  ground  as  I  was  supposed  to  do,  I  burst  out  sobbing 
and  ran  off  the  stage,  in  the  centre  of  which  I  left  poor  Clotilde 
standing,  a  forlorn  little  girl  of  ten.  Instantly  there  was  a  storm 
of  laughter  and  applause.  Unable  to  stand  it,  Clotilde  too  ran  off 
the  stage,  and  the  curtain  was  hastily  rung  down. 

"  Soon  I  was  surrounded  with  teachers  and  elder  girls,  some 
abusing  me,  others  begging  me  to  finish  the  play.  But  it  was 
useless.  I  could  act  no  more  and  the  play,  for  lack  of  an  under- 
study, was  over.  I  was  hustled,  a  weeping  and  very  bedraggled- 
looking  fairy,  to  the  dormitory,  where  I  was  left  alone  with  my 

"  I  would  have  given  worlds  to  have  been  left  alone  for  the 
remainder  of  the  day  !  But  it  was  not  to  be,  for  scarcely  fifteen 
minutes  passed  before  the  door  opened  and  my  mother  appeared, 
followed  by  my  aunts  and  their  whole  party  ! 

"  I  could  have  prayed  for  the  floor  to  open  and  swallow  me  ! 
I  hid  my  head  in  the  bedclothes,  like  an  ostrich,  and  affected  not 
to  hear  the  words  addressed  to  me.  Finally  I  felt  firm  hands  on 
my  shoulders  and  I  was  dragged  forth,  weeping  violently. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  49 

"  If  mother  had  only  taken  me  in  her  arms  and  kissed  and 
comforted  me  !  I  was  only  a  tiny  child,  not  yet  nine  years  old 
and  still  constitutionally  weak,  with  high-strung  nerves.  But 
she  stood  there  holding  me  and  looking  coldly  into  my  tear-filled 

"  '  And  to  think,'  she  said  icily, '  that  this  is  a  child  of  mine  ! ' 

"  '  One  would  never  think  it,'  said  Aunt  Rosine,  sternly. 

"  All  were  hard,  unsympathetic,  seeming  not  to  realise  that 
they  were  bullying  a  child  whose  nerves  were  at  the  breaking - 
point  and  who  was  in  reality  almost  dead  from  exhaustion.  I 
broke  into  another  storm  of  sobs  and,  kicking  myself  free  from 
my  mother,  ran  to  the  bed  and  threw  myself  upon  it  in  despair. 
With  some  further  unkindly  remarks  from  my  mother  and  aunts, 
the  party  finally  left,  but  as  he  reached  the  door  the  Due  de  Morny, 
the  last  to  go  out,  turned  and  retraced  the  few  steps  to  my  bed. 

"  '  Never  mind,  my  little  one,'  he  whispered.  '  You  will  show 
them  all  how  to  act  one  of  these  days,  won't  you  ?  ' 

"  His  comforting  words,  however,  had  come  too  late.  I  had 
sobbed  myself  into  a  fever  and  the  next  morning  the  doctor  had 
to  be  called.  For  several  days  I  was  kept  in  bed  and  forbidden 
to  see  the  other  girls.  Through  these  long  four  days  I  kept  think- 
ing constantly  of  my  mother.  Why  had  she  been  so  cruel,  so 
cold  to  her  daughter  ?  I  knew  that  another  child  had  been  born  the 
year  before,  and  with  childish  intuition  I  hit  upon  the  right  answer. 
Mother  loved  the  baby  more  than  she  loved  me — if,  indeed,  she 
loved  me  at  all.  I  was  inconsolable  at  the  thought.  How  lonely 
a  vista  the  coming  years  opened  to  my  immature  imagination ! 
Scores  of  times  I  sobbed  out  loud  :  '  I  would  rather  be  dead ! 
I  would  rather  be  dead  ! ' 


50  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  Alas  !  this  was  not  the  last  time  that  my  mother's  chilly 
behaviour  towards  me  threw  me  into  a  paroxysm  of  misery 
resulting  in  illness.  I  never  grew  callous  to  her  disapproval  of 
me  ;  her  cutting  criticisms  had  always  the  power  to  wound  me  to 
the  heart.  And  yet  I  loved  her  !  More,  I  adored  her  !  Poor, 
lonely,  friendless  child  that  I  was  and  had  ever  been,  my  starved 
heart  cried  out  to  the  one  human  being  whose  love  I  had  the  right 
to  claim,  and  who  responded  to  my  caresses  sometimes  almost  as 
if  I  had  been  a  stranger." 

This  was  the  only  occasion  on  which  Sarah  Bernhardt  ever 
bewailed  to  me  or  to  anyone  else,  her  mother's  lack  of  affection 
for  her.  She  was  scrupulously  loyal  to  both  her  parents,  and  on 
the  rare  occasions  when  she  mentioned  them,  it  was  always  in 
terms  of  genuine  love  and  respect. 

During  her  two  years  in  Auteuil,  Sarah's  mother  went  to  see 
her  only  three  times,  and  her  father  only  once.  Her  father's 
visit  took  place  at  the  end  of  the  first  year,  in  December  1851. 
It  was  the  first  time,  to  her  recollection,  that  Sarah  had  ever 
seen  him.  They  met  in  the  head-mistress's  office,  and  the  occa- 
sion must  have  been  replete  with  drama. 

"  I  was  called  from  study  one  afternoon  about  three  o'clock," 
said  Sarah,  "  and  taken  to  Mme.  Fressard's  bureau.  I  found  her 
waiting  for  me  at  the  door  with  a  peculiar  expression  on  her  face, 
and  in  the  arm-chair  near  the  fireplace  I  saw  a  very  well-dressed 
man  of  about  thirty,  with  a  waxed  moustache. 

"  '  Ma  cMrie,'  said  Madame  Fressard, '  here  is  your  father  come 
to  see  you.' 

"  Mon  phe !  So  this  was  the  mysterious  personage  whose 
wish  and  order  governed  my  life  ;   this  the  parent  of  whom  my 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  51 

mother  was  apparently  so  much  in  fear,  and  yet  whom  she  seldom 
saw  ;   this  the  stranger  who  was  responsible  for  my  being  ! 

"  I  advanced  shyly  and  gave  my  face  to  be  kissed,  an  opera- 
tion which  my  father  performed  twice,  on  both  sides,  his  mous- 
tache giving  me  a  prickly  sensation  on  my  cheeks. 

"  '  "\\Tiy,  she  is  growing  into  quite  a  little  beauty ! '  he  said 
to  Madame  Fressard,  holding  me  so  that  he  could  look  at  me 
closely.  Then  he  asked  me  many  questions  :  Was  I  happy  ? 
Was  I  well  ?  Had  I  playmates  ?  What  had  I  learned  ?  Could 
I  read  and  write  ?— and  spell  ? — and  do  sums  ? 

"  The  interrogation  lasted  ten  minutes  and  then  my  father 
took  his  tall  grey  hat  and  gloves,  and  prepared  to  leave. 

"  '  We  will  leave  her  with  you  for  a  little  while  longer,  madame,' 
he  said  to  Madame  Fressard,  while  I  listened  with  all  my  ears. 

"  '  I  am  going  for  a  long  journey  and  do  not  expect  to  return 
for  eight  or  ten  months.  When  I  come  back  we  will  consider 
what  is  best  to  be  done.' 

"  Kissing  me  again,  he  took  his  departure  and  Madame 
Fressard  drew  me  to  her. 

"  '  I  should  think  you  would  love  your  father  very,  very 
much,'  she  said.     '  He  is  such  a  handsome  man  !  ' 

"  '  How  can  I  love  him  ? '  I  replied  wonderingly.  '  I  have  never 
seen  him  before.'  " 

A  year  later  Bernhardt  had  not  returned  from  South  America, 
but  he  sent  Julie  a  letter,  in  which  he  urged  that  Sarah  should  be 
taken  from  Madame  Fressard's  preparatory  school  and  sent  to  a 
convent ;  he  suggested  Grandchamps  Convent,  at  Versailles.  He 
had  written  to  the  Superior,  he  said,  explaining  the  circumstances, 
and  the  latter  had  replied  that  if  little  Sarah  was  sponsored  by  one 

52  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

other  gentleman,  preferably  one  in  Paris,  the  matter  could  be 
arranged.  Julie  at  once  asked  the  Due  de  Morny,  who  agreed  to 
sponsor  the  child. 

In  the  same  letter  Bernhardt  said  that  he  had  made  his  will, 
in  which  he  left  20,000  francs  to  Sarah,  providing  she  had  married 
before  the  age  of  twenty-one. 

"  I  do  not  intend  my  daughter,"  he  wrote  coldly,  "  to  follow 
the  example  of  her  mother." 

Until  she  was  twenty-one  the  income  from  the  20,000  francs 
was  to  pay  for  Sarah's  schooling.  Her  mother  was  to  pay  for 
her  clothes. 

Although  the  letter  said  that  Bernhardt  did  not  expect  to 
return  to  France  for  several  months,  he  actually  caught  the  next 
boat  to  that  which  carried  his  letter,  and  arrived  in  Paris  just 
after  Sarah  had  been  withdrawn  from  the  school  at  Auteuil. 

This  had  not  been  effected  without  a  storm  of  protest  on 
Sarah's  part.  The  two  years  had  passed  happily  at  Madame 
Fressard's,  and  she  feared  the  future,  surrounded  by  strange  and 
cold  relatives. 

Julie  had  gone  to  London,  and  it  was  Aunt  Rosine  who  went 
to  the  school  to  fetch  the  child. 

Sarah  delighted  to  tell  of  this  departure  from  the  school. 

"  I  hated  to  leave,"  she  told  me,  "  and  it  was  two  hours  before 
they  could  succeed  in  dressing  me.  Once  this  was  accomplished, 
I  flew  at  Tante  Rosine  like  a  young  fury,  and  spoiled  all  her 
elaborate  coiffure. 

"  She  was  furious  and,  bundling  me  into  her  coach,  commanded 
me  to  keep  silent.  But  I  would  not,  and  throughout  the  journey 
in  the  jolting  carriage  from  Auteuil  to  6,  rue  de  la  Chaussee  d' Antin, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  53 

where  my  aunt  and  my  mother  owned  a  joint  flat,  I  tore  at  her  hair 
and  kicked  at  her  legs,  and  otherwise  performed  hke  the  disgrace- 
ful young  ragamuffin  I  really  was. 

"  I  was  no  better  on  our  arrival  at  the  flat,  and  kept  the  whole 
household  in  an  uproar  until  I  heard  the  sudden  announcement 
that  my  father  had  arrived  !  Then  I  coUapsed  and  had  to  be 
carried  to  bed,  where  I  lost  consciousness  for  three  hours.  When 
I  awoke,  it  was  to  find  a  doctor  and  nurse  installed  and  an  array 
of  medicine  bottles  on  the  table.  I  felt  utterly  exhausted  and  I 
heard  Doctor  Monod,  the  great  physician  who  had  been  called  by 
the  Due  de  Morny,  tell  my  father  that  I  was  in  an  extremely 
delicate  condition  and  that  my  recovery  depended  upon  my  being 
kept  absolutely  quiet.  *  Above  all,'  said  he,  '  she  is  not  to  be 
"  crossed."  '  " 

Sarah's  father  often  visited  her  during  her  three  days'  con- 
valescence from  the  fever  brought  on  by  a  fit  of  temper,  and  on 
two  occasions  he  brought  with  him  Rossini,  who  lived  in  the 
same  street  and  was  an  intimate  friend. 

Julie  had  been  informed  of  Sarah's  illness,  but  was  herself 
ill  at  Haarlem,  in  Holland,  where  she  had  just  arrived  from  Lon- 
don. It  was  a  fortnight  before  she  reached  Paris,  and  in  the  mean- 
time Sarah  stayed  at  Neuilly,  in  the  home  of  another  and  married 
aunt  whose  husband  afterwards  became  a  monk. 

When  Julie  finally  arrived,  a  dinner  was  arranged  to  take  place 
the  night  before  Sarah  was  taken  to  the  Convent.  Edouard 
Bernhardt  was  present.  This  was  the  last  time  Sarah  saw  her 
father,  for  he  died  shortly  afterwards  in  Italy. 

Sarah's  life  at  the  Convent  has  been  more  or  less  faithfully 
described  in  her  own  Memoirs,  and  I  shall  not  dilate  on  it  here. 

54  Sarah  Bernhardt  As  I  Knew  Her 

She  was  expelled  three  timeS' — the  last  time  for  good.  She  was 
baptised  at  the  age  of  twelve  under  the  name  of  Rosine,  and  from 
then  on  dated  her  determination  to  become  a  nun.  For  two  years 
she  was  fanatical  on  the  subject  of  religion,  but  this  did  not  pre- 
vent her  fits  of  temper  from  breaking  out  and  disturbing  the  whole 

"  All  my  time  at  the  Convent  I  was  haunted  by  the  desire  to 
be  a  nun,"  she  said  to  me  once.  "  The  beautiful  life  of  the  sisters 
who  taught  us  at  Grandchamps,  their  almost  unearthly  purity, 
their  tranquil  tempers,  all  made  a  tremendous  impression  on  me. 
I  dearly  desired  to  take  the  vows  and,  had  it  been  left  to  me, 
Sarah  Bernhardt  would  have  become  Sister  Rosine.  But  I 
doubt  whether  I  would  have  remained  a  nun  for  life  ! 

"  I  was  never  genuinely  religious.  It  was  the  glamour  and 
mystery  and,  above  all,  the  tranquillity  surrounding  the  life  of 
a  cloistered  nun  that  attracted  me.  I  should  have  run  away  from 
the  Convent  before  many  weeks." 

Young  Sarah  was  tremendously  high-spirited  and  constantly 
in  trouble.  The  nuns  were  always  sending  despairing  reports 
to  her  mother. 

Once,  during  a  presentation  of  prizes,  she  pretended  to 
faint  and  acted  the  part  so  realistically  that  even  the  Superior 
was  deceived  and  believed  her  pupil  to  be  dead.  It  gave  her  such 
a  shock  that  the  poor  lady  was  ill  for  days.  Sarah  was  sent  to 
her  bedroom  in  disgrace. 

"  I  spent  the  time  reading  forbidden  books  and  eating  bonbons 
that  the  concierge  had  smuggled  in  to  me,"  she  said,  in  telling 
me  the  story. 

On  another  occasion  she  organised  a  flight  from  the  Convent. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  55 

In  the  dead  of  night  she  and  six  other  girls  of  a  similarly  adven- 
turous disposition  climbed  down  torn  and  knotted  sheets  from 
their  dormitory  windows  to  the  ground.  Clambering  over  the 
high  wall  surrounding  the  Convent  grounds,  thej''  took  to  their 
heels  and  were  caught  only  at  noon  the  next  day,  when  in  the  act 
of  throwing  stones  at  horses  of  the  Royal  Dragoons. 

For  this  exploit  she  was  expelled,  but  was  allowed  to  return 
on  her  promise  never  to  give  trouble  again. 

Scarcely  two  months  afterwards,  however,  she  was  discovered 
by  the  mother-superior  on  top  of  the  Convent  wall,  imitating  the 
Bishop  of  Versailles,  whom  the  day  before  she  had  seen  conducting 
the  Burial  Service  at  a  graveside.     Expelled  again  ! 

On  still  another  occasion  she  was  caught  flirting  with  a  young 
soldier,  who  had  tossed  his  cap  over  the  wall.  When  the  nuns 
tried  to  catch  her,  she  climbed  the  wall  and  stayed  there  for 
hours,  until  long  after  dark.  On  this  occasion  she  caught  a  chill 
which  nearly  resulted  in  her  death,  and  when  she  had  recovered 
she  left  the  Convent  for  good. 

56  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


At  the  age  of  fifteen  Sarah  was  a  thin,  weedy,  shock-headed  girl, 
about  five  feet  tall,  but  undeveloped.  Her  complexion  was  pale 
and  dark  rings  under  her  eyes  told  the  story  of  unconquered 
anaemia.  She  had  a  chronic  cough  that  would  shake  her  thin 
body  to  paroxysms.  She  was  extremely  subject  to  colds  and 
chills,  and  the  slightest  indisposition  would  send  her  to  bed  with 
fever.  Doctors  shook  their  heads  over  her  and  predicted  that 
she  would  die  of  consumption  before  reaching  the  age  of  twenty. 

Her  anaemia  gave  to  her  face  a  species  of  sombre  beauty  which 
was  enlivened  by  the  extraordinary  play  of  expression  in  her  eyes 
as  she  talked.  Her  features  reflected  every  change  of  mood,  and 
her  moods  were  many.  Judged  by  her  face  alone,  she  was  not  so 
much  beautiful  as  striking.  Character  fairly  leapt  at  one  when  she 

Her  character  was  a  curious  composite  of  morbidity,  affec- 
tion, talent  and  wilfulness.  Her  mother  and  her  governess, 
Mile,  de  Brabender,  a  probationer  nun,  were  often  reduced  to 
despair  by  her  temper,  which  seemed  to  grow  worse  as  she  became 
older.  At  other  times,  but  more  rarely,  she  was  tractable  to  the 
point  of  docility. 

Sarah's  first  visit  to  the  theatre  was  to  the  Opera-Comique. 
This  great  event  occurred  when  she  was  slowly  recovering  from  the 
illness  which  followed  her  expulsion  from  the  Convent  at  Grand- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  57 

champs.  One  day  she  was  at  her  music  lesson  with  Mile.  Clarisse, 
when  her  mother's  maid  came  to  say  that  her  presence  was  desired 
in  the  salon.  There  she  found  her  mother,  the  Due  de  Morny, 
and  her  younger  sister  Jeanne,  who  was  never  far  from  her 
mother's  side  when  the  latter  was  in  Paris. 

Putting  his  hand  on  her  curly  heard  the  Duke  said  : 

"  We  have  a  great  surprise  for  you." 

"  A  wonderful  surprise,"  added  her  mother. 

Sarah  clapped  her  hands  excitedly.  "  I  knoW' — I  know  ! 
You  are  going  to  let  me  enter  the  Convent — I  am  to  be  a  nun  !  " 

She  was  overwhelmed  with  joy ;  never  doubted  but  that 
her  fondest  dream  was  to  be  made  true. 

"  What  is  this  ?  "  demanded  the  Duke  in  amazement.  "  Our 
beautiful  little  Sarah  wants  to  be  a  nun  ?  And  why  do  you  wish 
to  condemn  yourself  to  that  living  death,  may  I  ask  ?  " 

Living  death  !  To  the  child,  whose  memories  of  the  Convent 
were  so  recent,  the  life  of  a  nun  was  a  living  joy — a  joy  of  service, 
sacrifice  and  peace.  To  her  restless,  turbulent,  almost  exotic 
temperament  the  thought  of  the  calm,  well-ordered  existence  of 
the  tranquil  religieuses  was  a  beautiful  one,  a  sacred  memory. 
She  could  not  bear  the  harsh  laughter  with  which  her  mother 
greeted  the  suggestion. 

"  Expelled  from  a  convent  and  wants  to  be  a  nun  !  "  said 
Julie,  scornfully.  She  could  never  bring  herself  to  believe  that 
this  amazingly  complex  creature  was  her  own  child. 

"  Hush  !  "  commanded  the  Duke,  frowning.  "  Now,  my 
little  one,  my  question  is  not  answered.  Why  do  you  wish  to  be 
a  nun  ?  " 

Sarah  looked  fearlessly  at  her  mother's  protector. 

58  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  The  doctors  say  I  am  soon  to  die — I  have  heard  them  talk," 
she  said.  "  I  would  hke  to  die  with  my  soul  dedicated  to 

To  Julie,  who  was  still  a  Jewess,  this  was  cause  for  further 
laughter ;  but  the  Duke,  a  man  of  much  sentiment  and  some 
honour,  was  much  affected. 

"  Nonsense  !  "  he  said.  "  You  are  not  going  to  die  for  many 
years  !  The  doctors  are  fools  !  We  shall  discharge  them  for 
idle  talking.  .  .  .  No,  my  little  one,  the  great  surprise  is  not  what 
you  thought.  We  are  going  to  take  you  to  the  Opera-Comique 
to  see  a  play." 

Instead  of  the  stammered  thanks  he  expected,  Sarah  began  to 

"  I  do  not  want  to  go  to  the  Op^ra-Comique  !  "  she  cried, 
stamping  her  foot.  "  I  won't  go  !  Mother  Saint-Sophie  (the 
superior  at  the  Convent)  said  that  the  theatre  was  wicked.  I 
do  not  want  to  be  wicked  :   I  want  to  be  a  nun  !  " 

Threats  and  persuasion  were  both  necessary  before  Sarah 
consented  to  don  the  new  gown  her  mother  had  purchased  for 
her  and  accompany  her  parent  and  the  Duke  to  the  latter's  box 
at  the  Opera-Comique. 

This  theatre  was  then  in  the  Place  du  Chatelet,  and  httle 
did  the  child  dream,  as  she  entered  it,  that  twenty-five  years  later 
she  herself  would  lease  it  from  the  city  and  call  it  the  "  Theatre 
Sarah  Bernhardt  "^ — which  is  its  name  to-day.  Thus,  the  last 
theatre  in  which  she  acted  was  also  that  in  which  she  saw  her 
first  play. 

Sarah  fell  an  immediate  victim  to  the  theatre.  The  piece  she 
saw  that  night — Sarah  herself  did  not  remember  its  name — held 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  59 

her  enthralled.  It  was  necessary  for  her  companions  to  drag  her 
away  after  the  curtain  had  fallen  on  the  last  act. 

She  had  been  transported  to  a  new  world,  an  unreal  sphere  of 
delight.  For  days,  for  weeks  thereafter  she  spoke  of  little  else. 
She  besieged  her  mother  with  demands  to  be  taken  to  the  theatre 
again.  The  latter,  however,  was  too  wrapped  up  in  her  own 
pleasure-loving  hfe  to  take  much  heed  in  the  desires  of  her  wilful 

One  day  Sarah  went  off  to  the  art  school,  where  she  was  learn- 
ing to  paint — her  ambition  to  become  a  nun  was  almost  forgotten 
now,  and  she  would  spend  feverish  hours  in  preparation  for  the 
career  she  was  convinced  was  ahead  of  her  as  a  great  portrait- 
painter — and  did  not  return  until  the  next  morning. 

All  that  night  searchers  hunted  throughout  the  city  for  the 
truant ;  the  police  were  informed  and  it  was  even  suggested  that 
the  Seine  should  be  dragged,  for  it  was  remembered  that  to  come 
home  from  the  art  school,  which  it  was  ascertained  she  had  left 
at  the  usual  hour,  it  was  necessary  for  her  to  cross  the  Pont 

At  nine  o'clock  the  next  morning  a  tired,  sleepy  and  very 
dirty  Sarah  returned  to  her  mother's  flat  and,  in  reply  to  a  storm 
of  questions  and  reproaches  from  her  almost  frantic  mother, 
explained  that  she  had  spent  the  night  in  the  Op^ra- 

She  had  gone  there  direct  from  her  art  school  and  had  succeeded 
in  entering  the  theatre  unobserved.  Hiding  under  a  seat  in  one 
of  the  galleries,  she  had  waited  until  the  play  began  and  had  then 
appropriated  a  chair.  After  the  play,  seized  with  panic,  she  was 
afraid  to  go  out  with  the  rest  of  the  audience  and  had  hidden 

6o  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

herself  again,  only  leaving  when  the  doors  were  opened  to  the 
cleaners  in  the  morning. 

After  that  the  Duke  gave  her  regular  tickets  for  the  theatre, 
and  she  saw  many  plays.  Frequently  she  would  visit  the  same 
theatre  a  dozen  times,  learn  several  of  the  parts  by  heart  and 
surprise  her  friends  by  reciting  them. 

It  was  at  this  period  of  her  life  that  Sarah  began  to  have  friends 
of  the  opposite  sex,  but  she  assured  me  that  she  loved  none  of 

"  I  had  no  foolishness  of  that  kind  in  my  head  !  "  she  told  me 
on  one  occasion.  "  My  mother's  house  was  always  full  of  men, 
and  the  more  I  saw  of  them  the  less  I  liked  them. 

"  I  was  not  a  very  companionable  child.  I  had  few  girl 
friends  and  fewer  male  acquaintances,  but  these  latter  were 
assiduous  in  their  attempts  to  make  me  like  them. 

"  The  first  man  who  asked  me  to  marry  him  was  a  wealthy 
tanner's  son,  a  young  fellow  of  twenty  who  was  earning  forty 
francs  a  week  in  his  father's  establishment,  but  who  expected  to 
be  rich  one  day. 

"  His  father  used  to  frequent  my  mother's  house  and  one  day 
he  brought  his  son  with  him.  I  was  sent  for  to  complete  the  party 
and,  though  I  was  haughty  and  kept  the  young  fellow  at  a  dis- 
tance, I  could  see  that  I  had  made  a  conquest. 

"  He  came  again  and  again,  and  would  waylay  me  on  my 
journey  to  and  from  the  art  school,  insisting  on  carrying  my  books. 
I  did  not  dislike  him,  for  he  was  a  handsome,  earnest  young  man, 
but  neither  did  I  like  him  particularly  ;  and  when  he  capped  his 
attentions  by  asking  me  to  marry  him  I  laughed  in  his  face.  He 
went  away  vowing  revenge. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  6i 

"  That  night  my  mother  came  into  my  bedroom  and  asked  me 
whether  the  tanner  had  not  proposed  that  day. 
"  '  Yes,  mother,'  I  said. 
"  '  And  you  accepted  him  ?  ' 

"  I  gave  her  a  look  of  horror.  '  Accept  him  ?  '  I  cried. 
'  But  no,  of  course  I  did  not  accept  him  !  I  do  not  love  him — that 

is  one  reason ' 

"  '  It  is  a  poor  reason,'  said  my  mother  angrily,  '  Do  you 
suppose  I  wish  you  on  my  hands  for  ever  ?  Are  you  never  going 
to  marry  ?  Your  sisters  are  growing  up  and  soon  they  will  marry 
and  you  will  be  left,  an  ugly  vieille  fille !  Love  always  comes  after 
marriage  !  ' 

"  '  I  do  not  care,'  I  persisted,  '  I  will  not  marry  your  tanner  ! 
He  has  large  ears  and  his  teeth  are  bad  and  he  cannot  talk.  I 
will  not  marry  him,  and  if  he  comes  here  again  I  shall  slap  his 
face  !  ' 

"  My  mother  was  angrier  than  I  had  ever  seen  her.  '  Very 
well,  then,  you  shall  do  as  you  Hke  !  I  wash  my  hands  of  you  ! ' 
she  exclaimed,  and  left  me. 

"  I  burst  into  a  storm  of  tears  and  cried  half  the  night. 
What  a  lonely  child  I  was  !  My  only  friends  were  Madame 
Guerard,  who  was  under  the  domination  of  my  mother,  and 
Mile,  de  Brabender,  a  timid  soul,  who  would  fondle  and  talk  to 
me  affectionately  when  we  were  alone,  but  who  was  afraid  to  open 
her  mouth  in  the  presence  of  my  lovely  mother." 

The  tanners — father  and  son — ceased  to  frequent  the  Van 
Hard  house,  and  for  a  long  while  Julie  did  not  speak  to  her 
daughter  except  formally.  To  make  up  for  it,  she  was  tre- 
mendously and  ostentatiously  affectionate  with  her  two  other 

62  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

daughters,  Jeanne  and   Regine,  who  had  been  born  four  years 

Regine  had  a  childhood  somewhat  similar  to  that  of  Sarah  ; 
that  is  to  say,  she  was  bundled  from  here  to  there,  never  nursed 
by  her  mother,  alternately  the  recipient  of  cuffs  and  kisses,  and 
from  the  age  of  three  left  pretty  much  to  her  own  sweet  devices. 
It  is  not  to  be  wondered  at  that  she  grew  into  a  perfect  terror  of 
a  child. 

At  the  time  of  which  we  are  writing  now,  Regine  was  forbidden 
the  reception  rooms  of  the  house,  and  spent  most  of  her  time  in 
Sarah's  room.  Sarah  became  her  nurse  and  teacher,  and  this 
relationship  continued  until,  fourteen  years  later,  Regine  died. 

Julie  Van  Hard  had  become  a  fashionable  personage  in  Paris, 
owing  to  her  relationship  with  the  Due  de  Morny,  who  was  then 
one  of  the  most  powerful  men  in  France.  The  Duke  kept  her 
plentifully  supplied  with  money,  and  her  gowns  were  the  rage  of 

Beautiful,  of  commanding  stature,  her  glossy  reddish -gold 
hair  without  a  streak  of  grey  in  it,  Julie  was  an  idol  to  be  wor- 
shipped by  the  youthful  dilettantes  of  the  gay  city.  No  reception, 
no  first  night  at  a  theatre,  was  complete  without  the  presence  of 
Julie  Van  Hard. 

Dressmakers  besieged  her  to  wear  their  gowns  for  nothing, 
in  return  for  the  advertisement  she  gave  them.  It  was  Julie 
Van  Hard,  mother  of  Sarah  Bernhardt,  who  launched  the  famous 
Second  Empire  style  of  tightly-wound  sleeves,  with  lace  cuffs, 
square  ddcolleti  and  draped  gowns  with  long  trains.  She  was  a 
great  coquette,  and  almost  certainly  the  Due  de  Morny  was  not 
the  only  recipient  of  her  favours. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  63 

Julie  Van  Hard's  home  was  spacious,  and  was  invariably  filled 
with  visitors.  There  was  a  dinner  or  an  entertainment  of  some 
kind  every  night.  Gathered  in  the  two  gorgeously-decorated 
salons  one  would  see  such  people  as  Sarah's  two  aunts,  Rosine 
Berendt  and  Henriette  Faure  ;  Paul  Regis,  who  stood  as  her  god- 
father at  Sarah's  baptism  ;  General  Polhes,  an  old  friend  of  Julie's 
and  godfather  of  Regine  ;  Madame  de  Guerard,  Count  de  Larry, 
Due  de  Morny,  Count  de  Castelnau,  Albert  Prudhomme,  Vis- 
comte  de  Nou^,  Comte  de  Larsan,  Comte  de  Charaix,  General  de 
la  Thurmelifere,  Augustus  Levy  the  playwright,  Vicomte 
de  Gueyneveau,  and  many  others. 

Sarah  seldom  appeared  at  the  parties  in  which  these  people 
figured.  Their  activities  did  not  interest  her.  She  had  refused 
to  continue  with  her  piano  studies,  to  the  great  disappointment  of 
her  mother,  who  was  an  accomplished  pianiste. 

"  I  have  always  hated  the  piano  !  "  Sarah  told  me  once  in 
1890.  "  I  think  it  is  because  Mile.  Clarisse,  my  teacher,  used  to 
rap  me  on  the  fingers  with  a  little  cane  she  carried  to  mark  the 
tempo.  Whenever  I  hit  a  false  note,  down  would  come  the  cane, 
and  then  I  would  fly  into  a  fury,  charge  the  poor  lady  like  a  small 
tigress  and  try  to  pull  her  hair  out.  She  did  not  remain  to  teach 
me  very  long  and  she  was  never  replaced  !  " 

The  next  candidate  to  Sarah's  hand  was  a  worthy  glove-maker, 
named  Trudeau.  He  was  wealthy,  as  wealth  was  counted  then, 
and  while  not  precisely  the  son-in-law  Julie  would  have  wished, 
he  would  doubtless  have  been  welcome  enough  in  the  family  had 
he  succeeded  in  breaking  down  the  barriers  Sarah  had  erected 
before  her  heart. 

Sarah's  chief  objection  to  Trudeau  was  that  he  was  too  fat. 

64  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Then,  again,  he  was  smooth-shaven,  and  it  was  accounted  very 
ugly  in  those  days  not  to  have  a  moustache.  Clean-shaven  men, 
on  entering  a  theatre,  would  often  receive  a  jeering  reception 
from  the  audience.  The  hirsute  fashion  of  that  period  was  long 
side-whiskers,  a  short,  double-pointed  beard,  and  a  pointed, 
waxed  moustache. 

Julie  did  not  urge  her  daughter  to  marry  Trudeau.  She 
probably  knew  that  any  such  effort  would  have  been  doomed  to 
failure  from  the  start.  Trudeau,  however,  laid  determined  siege 
to  the  young  girl  for  several  months,  during  which  he  sent  her, 
among  other  expensive  gifts,  a  brooch  of  the  sort  that  was  after- 
wards known  as  a  "  la  VaUiere."  This  brooch  was  among  those 
recently  sold  by  auction  in  Paris. 

To  all  his  many  proposals  of  marriage,  however,  Sarah  turned 
a  deaf  ear.  She  would  taunt  him  about  his  figure,  which  was 
short  and  broad,  and  above  all  she  would  jeer  at  his  lack  of  a 

"Never  will  I  marry  a  man  who  cannot  grow  hair  on  his  face ! " 
she  once  declared. 

He  persisted,  until  one  day  Sarah  called  him  a  "  fat  old  pig  " 
and  threw  the  contents  of  a  glass  of  champagne  in  his  face. 
Then  he  accepted  his  congd,  and  went  out  of  Sarah's  life  for 

Following  Trudeau  came  a  chemist,  who  had  a  shop  at  the 
corner  of  the  Boulevard  and  the  rue  de  la  Michodifere.  He  had 
been  captivated  by  the  red-haired  long-legged  youngster  who 
used  to  come  to  him  to  have  prescriptions  filled.  I  do  not  recall 
the  name  of  this  man,  but  I  know  that  when  Sarah  refused  him  he 
consoled  himself  less  than  a  month  later  by  marrying  a  widow. 

Sarah  Bernhardt. 
One  of  the  best  of  the  earliest  pictures. 


Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  65 

Years  later  Sarah  broke  a  parasol  over  his  head,  when  he  refused 
to  promise  not  to  supply  her  sister  Jeanne  with  morphine. 

After  that  a  succession  of  young  men  unsuccessfully  petitioned 
for  her  hand.  In  a  space  of  two  years  she  had  nearly  a  dozen  pro- 
posals, all  of  which  she  refused  with  equal  disdain.  She  was 
becoming  a  noteworthy  character  in  Paris  herself,  but  she,  the 
child,  was  of  course  eclipsed  by  the  brilliant  beauty  of  her  mother. 

These  suitors  came  from  all  classes  and  conditions  of  society. 
At  least  one — the  Vicomte  de  Larsan,  a  young  fop  whose  father  was 
a  frequenter  of  Julie's  house — ^was  of  noble  birth  and  heir  to  a 
considerable  fortune.  He  was  twenty-two  years  of  age,  and  when 
he  asked  her  to  marry  him,  Sarah  slapped  his  face. 

I  had  many  long  talks  with  Sarah  about  these  early  romantic 
episodes.  She  loved  to  repeat  reminiscences  of  her  girlhood  and 
she  had  an  astounding  memory. 

As  far  back  as  1892,  she  told  me  that  in  her  life  she  had  received 
more  than  a  thousand  proposals  of  marriage,  and  that  she  could 
remember  the  name  and  the  date  of  every  one  of  them  ! 

I  was  curious  about  these  thousand  proposals  of  marriage, 
and  often  tried  to  get  her  to  give  me  the  names.  But  she  said 
that  to  do  so  might  cause  harm  to  some  of  the  men  concerned, 
many  of  whom  were  then  happily  married,  and  had  children.  She 
told  me  of  many  episodes,  however,  in  which  such  secrecy  was 
not  necessary,  and  these  episodes  will  be  found  in  detail  later  in 
this  book. 

"  In  my  teens  I  cared  nothing  for  men — they  disgusted  me  !  " 
she  said.  "  I  was  called  a  great  little  beauty,  and  men  used  to 
kneel  at  my  feet  and  swear  that  they  would  jump  in  the  Seine 
if  I  refused  them.     I  invariably  told  them  to  go  and  do  so  ! 

66  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  I  was  indifferent  to  all  men.  My  mother's  flat  at  22,  rue 
de  la  Michodi^re,  which  had  been  beautifully  furnished  by  the 
Due  de  Morny,  was  full  of  men  visitors  from  early  afternoon  until 
late  at  night.  I  would  keep  out  of  their  way  as  much  as  possible, 
and  once  I  ran  away  for  three  days,  because  one  of  my  mother's 
admirers  persisted  in  making  revolting  proposals  to  me.    * 

"  Finally  I  returned  one  day  from  the  painting  school  and 

found  my  mother  and  the  servant  out  and  P installed  in 

the  salon.  Before  I  could  escape,  he  had  seized  me  and  covered 
me  with  kisses.  They  were  the  first  love-kisses  I  had  ever 
received,  and  I  was  not  to  give  one  for  years  afterwards. 

"  I  struggled  violently,  bit  him  on  the  chin  and  scratched  his 
face  frightfully,  but  I  was  a  weak  child  and  he  would  have  over- 
powered me  eventually  had  not  the  door  opened  and  my  mother, 
followed  by  the  Due  de  Morny,  come  in.  Neighbours  had  heard 
my  screams  and  were  congregated  outside  the  door.  My  mother 
was  white  with  passion. 

"  The  Duke  challenged  P to  a   duel  in  secret,  his  rank 

preventing  him  from  making  the  affair  a  public  one.     The  duel 

was  never   fought,  however,  for  P left   that  night  for  his 

home  near  Arcachon,  and  a  few  months  later  I  heard  he  had  been 
killed  in  a  coaching  accident  near  Tours. 

"  The  Vicomte  de  Larsan  was  the  most  persistent  suitor, 

after  P ,  and  he  was  only  a  boy.     I  could  not  bear  the  sight 

of  him,  with  his  rouged  cheeks,  his  scented  hands,  his  powdered 
hair  and  his  shirts  covered  with  expensive  lace.  He  used  to 
wait  outside  the  house  for  hours  until  I  came  out,  and  would  make 
fervent  declarations  of  love  in  the  street.  I  grew  to  hate  him, 
and  I  told  him  so  ! 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  67 

"  But  at  that  time  I  hated  nearly  all  men,  except  the  Due  de 
Morny.  That  nobleman  was  my  mother's  most  faithful  pro- 
tector, and  he  gave  her  large  sums,  which  helped  to  pay  for  my 
education  and  my  art  lessons.  He  used  to  predict  a  great  future 
for  me.  Not  only  did  he  stand  sponsor  for  me  for  the  Versailles 
convent  but  also  procured  my  entrance  into  the  Conservatoire. 

"  Many  people  in  those  days  thought  that  I  was  the  Duke's 
natural  daughter,  and  the  legend  has  persisted.  It  was  not  true, 
though,  for  when  I  was  born  my  mother  was  in  exceedingly  humble 
circumstances,  and  she  did  not  meet  the  Duke- — a  meeting  which 
Changed  her  fortunes — until  several  years  later." 

68  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


The  first  press  notice  that  Sarah  Bernhardt  ever  received  was 
published  in  the  Mercure  de  Paris  in  October  i860,  when  she 
was  sixteen  years  old.  Curiously  enough  it  did  not  concern  her 
histrionic  talent' — then  just  beginning  to  develop- — ^but  related  to  a 
painting  entitled  "  Winter  in  the  Champs  Elysees,"  with  which 
Sarah  had  won  the  first  prize  at  the  Colombier  Art  School  in  the 
Rue  de  Vaugirard. 

Sarah  gave  me  the  clipping  to  copy — it  was  among  her  most 
prized  possessions — and,  translated,  it  reads  as  follows : 

"  Among  the  remarkable  candidates  for  admission  to  the 
Beaux  Arts  should  be  mentioned  a  young  Parisienne  of  sixteen 
years,  named  Mademoiselle  Sarah  Bernhardt,  who  is  a  pupil  at 
Mile.  Gaucher 's  class  in  the  Colombier  School.  Mile.  Bernhardt 
exhibits  an  extraordinary  talent  for  one  so  young  and  her  picture 
"  Winter  in  the  Champs  Elysees,"  with  which  she  has  won  the  first 
prize  for  her  class,  is  distinguished  for  its  technical  perfection. 
Rarely  have  we  had  the  pleasure  of  welcoming  into  the  Beaux 
Arts  a  young  artist  of  similar  promise,  and  there  can  be  no  doubt 
that  very  soon  Mile.  Bernhardt  will  be  classed  as  one  of  our  greatest 
painters  and  thus  win  glory  for  herself  and  her  country." 

The  painting  in  question  was  bought  by  an  American  friend 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  69 

of  Sarah's  some  forty  years  later.  I  do  not  know  how  much  was 
paid,  but  other  early  paintings  of  hers,  which  have  sold  privately 
during  the  past  twenty  years,  have  brought  very  large  prices 

My  mention  of  this  first  press  criticism  of  Sarah's  work  brings 
to  mind  the  day  she  brought  me,  a  little  girl,  into  the  library  at 
her  house  11,  Boulevard  Malsherbes,  and  showed  me  four  fat 
volumes  each  filled  with  newspaper  clippings,  and  another  one 
only  just  begun.  On  a  chair  was  stacked  a  collection  of  envelopes 
each  dated,  containing  other  clippings,  and  these  Sarah  showed  me 
how  to  paste  in  the  book.     It  was  a  great  honour  for  me. 

Later  in  the  afternoon  Maurice  Bernhardt,  then  a  small  boy, 
came  in  and  helped  me,  but  I  remember  that  he  was  more  of  a 
nuisance  than  a  help,  and  he  ended  by  tipping  over  the  paste-pot 
and  making  a  mess  which  I  had  to  clean  up. 

When  she  died  Sarah  possessed  many  of  these  fat  volumes  of 
press-cUppings,  from  every  country  in  the  world.  It  was  said 
that  if  all  the  newspaper  notices  she  received  during  her  career 
could  have  been  placed  end  to  end,  they  would  have  reached 
around  the  world,  and  that  if  all  the  photographs  printed  of  her 
could  have  been  stacked  in  a  pile,  they  would  have  reached  higher 
than  the  Eiffel  Tower. 

Somebody  even  calculated  once  that  the  name  Sarah  Bernhardt 
alone  had  been  printed  so  often  in  newspapers  and  magazines, 
and  on  bills,  programmes  and  the  like,  that  the  letters  used  would 
bridge  the  Atlantic,  while  the  ink  would  be  sufficient  to  supply  the 
needs  of  The  Times  for  two  months  ! 

I  cannot  vouch  for  this,  but  there  can  be  no  doubt  whatever 
that,  if  the  number  of  times  one's  name  is  printed  is  a  criterion. 

70  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Sarah  Bernhardt  was  by  far  the  most  famous  person  who  has  ever 
lived.  For  nearly  sixty  years  never  a  day  went  by  without  the 
words  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  "  being  printed  somewhere  or  other. 
When  she  returned  from  her  American  tour  in  1898,  the  press- 
clippings  she  brought  back  with  her  filled  a  large  trunk. 

The  interesting  point  in  all  this  is  that  only  a  very  few  writers 
concerned  themselves  with  her  painting  and  sculpture.  Out 
of  all  the  millions  of  articles  written  about  her,  a  bare  sixty  or 
seventy  concern  her  capabilities  outside  the  theatre. 

If  little  was  known  of  Sarah  the  artist,  still  less  was  known  of 
Sarah  the  woman.     That  is  why  this  book  is  written. 

Thousands  of  people  who  loved  her  as  an  actress  never  knew 
that  she  had  been  married !  Those  who  knew  that  she  was  a 
Jewess  born  were  few  indeed.  Nothing  was  known  of  her  intimate 
home  Hfe,  of  her  affaires  du  cceur,  of  her  attempts  at  authorship, 
of  the  many  plays  she  either  wrote  or  revised. 

In  all  the  multitudinous  clippings  in  that  wonderful  collec- 
tion of  hers,  how  many  reveal  the  fact  that  Sarah  Bernhardt 
was  a  certificated  nurse  ?  How  many  persons  know  that  she  once 
studied  medicine  and  was  highly  proficient  in  anatomy  ?  How 
many  know  that  she  was  a  vegetarian,  and  often  said  that  her 
long  life  was  due  to  her  horror  of  meat  ?  How  many  know  that, 
for  many  long  years,  until  infirmity  intervened,  Sarah  Bernhardt, 
the  Jewess  born,  was  a  practising  Catholic,  seldom  missing  her 
Sunday  attendance  at  Mass  ? 

Is  it  not  extraordinary  that  so  little  should  really  have  been 
known  of  the  most  famous  woman  in  the  world  ?  Is  it  not  amaz- 
ing that  Sarah  was  able  to  conceal  her  home  life  under  the  glorious 
camouflage  of  her  stage  career  ? 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  71 

Yet,  looking  back  into  history,  how  little  is  known  of  the 
great  men  and  women  who  decorate  its  pages  ! 

We  know  where  Jean  d'Arc  was  bom  ;  we  know  she  saved  the 
French  armies  from  defeat  ;  but  never  has  it  been  written  where 
she  went  to  school,  and  little  or  nothing  is  known  of  her  family,  of 
the  mother  who  produced  her,  of  the  father  who  brought  her  up  a 
heroine.  Oliver  Cromwell  had  a  wife,  yet  what  do  we  know  of 
her  ?  George  Washington  was  one  of  the  greatest  warriors  of 
his  day,  yet  we  know  little  of  the  private  life  of  the  Father  of 

I  have  always  felt  this  lack  of  personal  knowledge  of  our  own 
great  ones.  Only  recently  have  biogi-aphers  realised  the  true 
scope  of  their  task.  Until  the  intimate  story  of  Victor  Hugo 
was  pubUshed,  some  few  years  ago,  how  little  we  knew  of  the  man 
who  wrote  three  times  as  many  words  as  there  are  in  the  Holy 
Bible  ! 

This  is  somewhat  of  a  digression,  but  one  justified  perhaps 
by  the  considerations  involved.  If  the  great  and  successful 
deeds  of  men  of  genius  make  entrancing  reading,  how  much 
more  absorbing  can  be  the  tale  of  their  spiritual  struggles 
and  "mental  fights"  ? 

'  And  with  her  graduation  from  the  art  school — she  was  entitled 
to  enter  the  Beaux  Arts  but  never  did — the  real  struggles  of  the 
lonely,  temperamental  child  who  was  Sarah  Bernhardt  began. 
Though  she  did  not  know  it,  a  war  of  impulses  was  going  on  within 
her  soul. 

There  was  her  great,  her  undoubted  talent  for  painting  and 
sculpture,  which  her  teachers  were  convinced  would  soon  make 
her  a  great  personage.    There  was  her  budding  dramatic  talent 

72  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

which  she  was  only  beginning  to  suspect.  There  was  her  funda- 
mental morbidity,  that  would  plunge  her  into  moods  during  which 
she  dreamed  of  and  longed  for  death.  There  was  the  craving  of 
her  turbulent  nature  for  the  peace  and  tranquillity  investing  the 
life  of  a  cloistered  nun.  There  was  her  inherited  unmorahty^ — 
I  know  of  no  other  word  with  which  to  describe  it — which  was 
for  ever  tugging  at  her  and  endeavouring  to  drag  her  down  into 
the  free-and-easy  existence  led  by  her  mother.  There  was  her 
maiden  heart,  starving  for  affection.  There  was  her  delicate 
health,  which  made  prolonged  effort  impossible.  And  lastly 
there  was  her  iron  will,  inherited  probably  from  her  father. 

A  phrase  in  one  of  the  pathetic  writings  of  Marie  Bashkirtseff 
comes  to  my  mind  :  "At  the  age  of  fourteen  I  was  the  only 
person  remaining  in  the  world  ;  for  it  was  a  world  of  my  own  that 
could  be  penetrated  only  by  understanding,  and  no  one,  not 
even  my  mother,  understood." 

How  could  the  frivolous  nature  of  Julie  Van  Hard  have 
comprehended  the  deep  waters  that  ran  within  the  soul  of  her 
unwanted  child  ? 

Julie  would  be  enormously  vexed  at  Sarah's  seeming  dullness. 
When  she  had  said  something  particularly  witty — and  Julie  was 
witty  according  to  the  humorous  standards  of  the  period — and 
Sarah  did  not  smile,  Julie  would  cry  :  "  Oh,  you  stupid  child  ! 
To  think  that  you  are  mine.  .  .    !  " 

Not  even  Sarah's  achievements  in  the  school  of  painting  could 
convince  Julie  that  she  had  not  given  birth  to  a  child  of  inferior 
mentality.  For  what  success  Sarah  had  with  her  pictures,  Julie 
took  credit  to  herself.  ♦ 

She  was  exasperated  by  Sarah's  attitude  towards  the  life  she 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  73 

herself  loved  so  well.  Julie  would  remain  for  hours  at  table, 
surrounded  by  wits  and  half-wits,  dandies  and  hangers-on  at 
court,  proud  in  the  assumption  that  she  was  an  uncrowned  queen. 
At  such  parties  Sarah  would  sit  speechless,  unable  or  unwiUing 
to  join  in  the  coarse  sallies  of  her  mother's  guests.  Her  mother 
used  constantly  to  refer  to  her  in  the  presence  of  others  as  "  That 
stupid  child,"  or  "  That  queer  little  creature." 

When  she  had  an  exceptionally  important  personage  to  enter- 
tain, Julie  would  forbid  Sarah  to  show  herself,  fearful  that  her 
daughter's  "  stupidity  "  would  injure  her  own  chances. 

As  constantly  as  she  blamed  Sarah,  she  praised  and  lavished 
affection  on  Jeanne,  her  "  little  Jeannot."  Jeanne  seemed  to 
take  naturally  after  her  mother  in  aU  things,  and  when  she  grew 
older  she  even  surpassed  her  mother  by  the  frivolous  way  in  which 
she  lived. 

The  sad  story  of  Jeanne  will  be  told  later,  but  it  may  be  said 
that  she  had  none  of  Sarah's  vast  intelligence,  none  of  her  good 
taste,  none  of  her  tremendous  capacity  for  affection.  Jeanne 
was  without  talent- — a  pretty  but  vapid  shell.  Her  father  was 
not,  of  course,  Edouard  Bernhardt. 

Regine,  on  the  other  hand,  took  after  Sarah,  who  practically 
brought  her  up.  But  Regine  had  Sarah's  temper  and  wild, 
erratic  temperament  without  Sarah's  talent  and  Sarah's  stubborn 
will.  Where  Sarah  was  firm  and  unyielding,  Regine  was  merely 
obstinate.  Where  Sarah  was  clever,  Regine  was  only  "  smart." 
She  was  a  "  pocket  edition  of  Sarah,"  as  her  mother  once 
remarked,  without  Sarah's  depth  of  character. 

Two  months  after  Sarah  attained  her  sixteenth  birthday,  her 
mother  moved  to  No.  265,  rue  St.  Honore,  not  far  from  the  Theatre 

74  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

FrangaiS' — better  known  as  the  Comedie  Fran9aise — and  Sarah 
delighted  in  loitering  about  the  stage  entrance  and  making  friends 
with  the  actors  and  actresses  who  passed  in  and  out. 

Sometimes  she  passed  whole  afternoons  and  evenings  thus 
employed.  Occasionally  she  would  run  errands  for  her  idols,  to 
be  recompensed  by  a  free  ticket  to  the  balcony.  On  one  never- 
to-be-forgotten  occasion  Jules  Bondy,  one  of  the  actors,  took  the 
eager  little  red-head  into  the  theatre  itself  and  installed  her  on 
a  case  in  the  wings,  from  which  she  could  see  the  play  without  her- 
self being  seen.  It  was  Molifere's  Le  Midecin  Malgre  Lui,  and 
from  that  time  dated  Sarah's  love  for  the  works  of  the  actor- 
playwright  to  whom  the  Comedie  Frangaise  is  dedicated. 

In  later  years  Sarah  played  Moliere  several  times,  but  she  made 
no  notable  success  in  this  author's  works. 

Sarah  always  longed  to  be  a  comedienne  ;  she  might  have 
been  a  great  one,  in  fact,  but  for  her  greatergifts  for  tragedy,  which 
prevented  managers  from  risking  her  appearance  in  lighter  drama. 
Great  comediennes  of  merit  are  less  rare  than  great  tragediennes. 
In  fact,  I  doubt  whether  there  is  living  to-day  an  actress  who  will 
ever  be  called  Sarah  Bernhardt's  equal  in  tragedy. 

Shortly  after  the  household  moved,  Sarah  fell  down  the  stairs 
and  broke  her  leg.  An  infection  developed  and  it  was  two  months 
before  she  was  able  to  walk.  When  she  finally  recovered  she  was 
thinner  than  ever — a  veritable  skeleton.  Her  face  maintained 
its  eerie  beauty,  the  large  blue  eyes  retained  their  occasional 
fire,  but  the  flush  of  fever  relieved  her  habitual  pallor  and 
beneath  her  neck  her  body  was  httle  more  than  a  bag  of 

She  ceased  wearing  short  dresses  and  took  to  long  ones,  for 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  75 

very  shame  of  her  thin  hmbs.  She  wore  thick  clothes  and  corsets 
to  pad  herself  out.  She  grew  introspective,  spending  long  hours 
alone  or  playing  silently  with  her  infant  sister  Regine,  or  reading 
books.  Once  Mile,  de  Brabender  discovered  her  on  her  knees  and, 
on  inquiry,  obtained  the  confession  that  she  had  been  praying 
steadily  for  nearly  three  hours, 

•The  rehgious  habit  again  grew  on  her.  The  subjects  for  her 
brush  were  mostly  saints,  surrounded  w  ith  the  conventional  halo 
She  hung  her  room  with  religious  pictures,  some  done  by  herself 
and  some  bought  cheaply  at  a  shop  near  the  Church  of  St.  Ger- 
main I'Auxerrois.  Over  her  bed  was  a  crucifix,  modelled  by 
herself  from  wax. 

She  was  confirmed  at  the  age  of  sixteen  years  and 
five  months,  and  wore  the  virginal  white  for  days  afterwards — 
until  it  grew  so  dirty,  indeed,  that  her  exasperated  mother  made 
her  throw  it  away,  * 

A  priest  had  given  her  a  rosary  that  had  been  dipped  in  the 
holy  waters  of  Lourdes,  and  this  she  wore  continually.  In  the 
quarter  she  became  known  sls"  la  petite  religieuse. ' '  Doctors  shook 
their  heads,  and  predicted  that  she  was  falling  into  a  decline, 
from  which  she  would  never  recover.  Her  suitors  fell  off,  one  by 
one,  until  only  a  retired  miller,  Jacques  Boujon,  a  man  of  fifty, 

To  English  readers  it  may  seem  incredible  that  a  girl  of  sixteen 
should  have  had  actual  suitors,  and  among  them  men  of  position 
and  wealth.  This  was  nevertheless  common  in  France  in  the 
middle  of  the  last  century,  and  it  is  by  no  means  rare  in  the  France 
of  to-day.  Added  to  this  was  Julie  Van  Hard's  intense  desire  to 
rid  herself,  once  and  for  all,  of  this  strange  child  she  had  brought 

76  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

into  being,  whose  sombre  presence  in  her  house  of  gaiety  seemed 
to  be  a  perpetual  mockery. 

One  day  Sarah  was  visited  in  her  bedroom,  where  she  was 
studying,  by  her  mother  and  Mile,  de  Brabender. 

"  I  want  you  to  put  on  this  new  dress  I  have  bought  you,  and 
then  come  down  to  the  salon.  There  is  something  particularly 
important  we  have  to  say  to  you,"  said  Julie. 

Sarah  shivered.  There  seemed  something  extraordinarily 
portentous  in  her  mother's  manner.  Who  were  "  we  "  ?  The 
child  felt,  as  she  told  me  years  later,  that  that  moment  represented 
a  cross-roads  in  her  life. 

Overwhelmed  with  a  dread  she  could  not  define,  Sarah  put  her 
new  dress  on  with  trembhng  fingers  and  descended  to  the  salon. 
There  she  found  quite  a  company  awaiting  her.  Foremost  in 
the  party  was  the  Due  de  Morny.  Next  to  him  was  her  mother. 
Across  the  table  was  Jean  Meyedieu,  her  father's  notary-pubUc. 
Next  to  him  was  Aunt  Rosine.  Madame  Guerard,  wearing 
an  anxious  look,  occupied  a  seat  near  the  fireplace.  Mile,  de 
Brabender,  accompanied  by  Jeanne,  followed  Sarah  in. 

The  door  was  closed.  Then  Julie  turned  to  her  daughter. 
"  Some  months  ago,"  she  said,  "  you  refused  to  consider  a 
proposal  of  marriage  from  an  honorable  gentleman." 

Sarah  remained  mute. 

"  To-day  another  honorable  gentleman  asks  you  to  marry 

Storm  signals  flashed  from  the  girl's  eyes.  "  I  will  marry 
no  one  except  God  !  "  she  declared.  "  I  wish  to  return  to  the 
Convent !  " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  77 

"  To  enter  a  convent,"  put  in  Meyedieu,  "  one  must  have 
money,  or  else  be  a  servant.     You  have  not  a  sou  !  " 

"  I  have  the  money  my  father  left  me  !  " 

"  No,  you  have  not  !  You  have  only  the  interest  until  you 
are  twenty-one.  If,  at  that  age,  you  have  not  married,  the  terms 
of  your  father's  will  stipulate  that  you  shall  lose  the  principal." 

The  Due  de  Morny  intervened. 

"  Do  you  think  that  you  are  right,  dear,  in  thus  going  against 
the  wishes  of  your  mother  ?  " 

Sarah  began  to  sob.  "  My  mother  is  not  married,  yet  she 
wants  me  to  be  a  wife  !  My  mother  is  a  Jewess,  and  she  does 
not  want  her  daughter  to  become  a  nun  !  " 

"  Leave  the  room  !  "  ordered  Julie,  angrily. 

Thus  ended  the  second  family  council  over  the  future  of  Sarah, 
and  the  problem  was  not  yet  solved. 

After  this  Sarah's  existence  in  her  mother's  house  became  a 
torment.  She  seldom  saw  her  parent ;  and  when  she  did,  the 
latter  hardly  looked  at  her.  She  took  her  meals  with  Regine 
and  Mile,  de  Brabender  in  the  nursery.  She  abandoned  art,  and 
spent  her  days  looking  after  her  baby  sister  in  the  Champs 
Elysees  and  on  the  qtiais  of  the  Seine. 

She  still  attended  the  theatre  as  often  as  she  could,  and  became 
a  faithful  devotee  of  the  Comedie.  Often  she  would  venture  as 
far  afield  as  the  Chatelet,  or  the  Boulevard  Bonne  Nouvelle,  to 
witness  plays  at  the  Gymnase. 

One  evening  she  returned,  after  a  solitary  evening  at  the 
theatre  and,  finding  the  salon  empty,  began  to  recite  one  of  the 
parts  she  had  seen.  She  had  seen  the  play  so  often  that  the  role 
of  the  heroine  was  practically  graven  on  her  memory.     Believing 

78  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

herself  entirely  alone,  she  went  right  through  with  the  piece, 
finishing  with  a  dramatic  flourish  at  the  place  where  the  heroine — 
I  forget  the  play^ — was  supposed  to  stab  herself  to  death- 
There  was  a  hearty  "  Bravo,  bravo  !  "  and  the  Due  de  Morny 
rose  from  a  chair  in  which  he  had  been  sitting  behind  a  screen. 

The  Duke  went  out  and  called  to  Julie  and  Rosine,  and,  when 
the  two  sisters  entered,  he  asked  the  child  to  play  the  part  again. 
At  first  bashful,  Sarah  eventually  plucked  up  courage  and  finally 
did  as  she  was  asked.     The  Duke  was  much  affected. 

"  That  memory  and  that  voice  must  not  be  lost  !  "  he  cried. 
"  Sarah  shall  enter  the  Conservatoire  !  " 

"  She  has  no  sense,  but  she  is  not  bad  at  reciting,"  agreed 
Julie,  scenting  a  happy  compromise. 

The  Conservatoire  ?  Sarah  began  to  worry.  What  was  this 
new  horror  to  which  they  were  so  easily  condemning  her  ? 

"  What  is  it,  the  Conservatoire  ?  "  she  asked,  hesitating. 

"  It  is  a  school,  my  dear,"  said  the  Duke  ;  "  a  school  for  great 

"  To  the  Conservatoire,  by  all  means  !  "  cried  Aunt  Rosine. 
"  She  is  too  stupid  to  be  a  good  actress,  but  it  will  keep  her  out 
of  mischief  !  " 

The  Duke  was  quite  excited. 

"  We  have  solved  the  problem  !  "  he  cried.  "  Our  Sarah  is  to 
become  an  actress  !  " 

"  But  I  don't  want  to  be  an  actress  !  "  cried  poor  Sarah. 

Her  objections  were  overridden,  and  that  very  night  the  Duke 
wrote  to  his  friends  at  the  Conservatoire,  demanding  that  Sarah 
should  be  inscribed  on  the  lists  for  admission. 

Sarah  was  now  within  a  month  of  seventeen. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  79 


When  application  had  been  made  to  Auber,  then  director  of  the 
Conservatoire — who,  on  the  Due  de  Momy's  recommendation, 
had  agreed  to  inscribe  Sarah  on  his  hstS' — it  was  found  that  only 
nine  weeks  remained  before  the  examinations  ! 

Even  to-day,  a  conservative  estimate  of  the  time  required  for 
preparation  for  the  Conservatoire  is  eighteen  months.  Many 
children  start  studying  for  it  when  they  are  ten  or  eleven.  Rarely 
has  any  pupil  succeeded  in  entering  without  at  least  nine  months' 
preliminary  study.     And  Sarah  had  only  nine  weeks  ! 

Aunt  Rosine  was  sceptical  of  Sarah's  ability  to  pass  the 
examinations.     The  Due  de  Momy  was  consoling. 

"  You  wiU  not  pass  this  time,"  he  said,  "  but  there  are  other 
examinations  next  year." 

As  to  Julie  Van  Hard,  she  was  inexorable  with  her  daughter. 

"  You  are  my  daughter.  You  shall  not  disgrace  me  by 
failing  !  "  she  said  to  Sarah. 

Julie  took  the  child  out,  and  bought  her  books  by  the  dozen. 
They  consulted  Hugo  Waldo,  an  actor  acquaintance,  and  on  his 
advice  chose  the  plays  of  Corneille,  Moliere  and  Racine.  Julie 
wanted  the  child  to  select  a  part  in  Phedre  for  her  examination, 
but  Mile,  de  Brabender,  the  probationer  nun,  said  that  this  could 
not  be  permitted,  as  Phedre  was  too  shocking  a  role  to  place  on 
the  lips  of  a  jeune  fille. 

8o  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

In  the  end,  Sarah  learned  the  part  of  Agnes  in  Molifere's  Ecole 
des  Femmes,  but  never  used  it  in  the  examination.  She  passed 
most  of  her  time  learning  to  pronounce  her  "  o's  "  and  "  r's  " 
and  "  p's,"  and  in  practising  the  art  of  pronouncing  each  syllable 
separately  and  in  putting  the  accent  in  the  tone,  rather  than  on 
the  syllabic  divisions.  Nowhere  is  French  spoken  entirely  purely, 
except  on  the  stage  of  the  better  Paris  theatres. 

The  day  of  the  examinations  came,  and  Sarah  was  by  now 
word-perfect.  To  enable  her  to  say  her  part,  however,  it 
was  necessary  for  someone  to  give  the  cues.  This  had  not  been 
thought  of. 

Julie,  whose  taste  in  dress  was  exquisite  but  a  trifle  exotic, 
had  out -done  herself  in  her  purchases  of  things  for  Sarah  to  wear 
on  the  great  day.  The  go^^^l  was  black,  deeply  decollete  about 
the  shoulders ;  a  corset  accentuated  the  extreme  slenderness  of 
her  waist ;  the  skirt  was  short,  but  lacy  drawers,  beautifully 
embroidered,  descended  to  the  beaded  slippers. 

Around  her  neck,  Sarah  wore  a  white  silk  scarf.  Her  hair, 
after  an  hour's  tussle  with  the  hairdresser,  had  been  combed  and 
tugged  into  some  sort  of  order  and  was  bound  tightly  back  from 
the  forehead  with  a  wide  black  ribbon.  The  effect  was  bizarre. 
One  of  George  Clairin's  best-known  sketches  of  Sarah  showed  her 
in  the  hands  of  the  hairdresser  on  this  occasion,  her  mother 
standing  near. 

After  what  seemed  an  interminable  wait  in  the  hot,  stifling 
auditorium  of  the  Conservatoire,  Sarah's  name  was  called. 
Trembling,  she  ascended  to  the  stage.  On  the  way  she  tried  to 
loosen  the  painful  ribbon  about  her  head,  with  the  result  that  it 
came  unpinned  and  her  glorious  mass  of  red-gold  hair  tumbled 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  8i 

forthwith  about  her  face.  Indeed  when  she  mounted  to  the  stage 
where  the  jury  sat  in  uncompromising  attitudes,  her  face  could 
hardly  be  seen. 

"  And  what  will  you  recite  ?  "  asked  the  chairman,  a  man 
named  Leataud. 

"  I  have  learned  the  part  of  Agnes,  but  I  have  no  one  to  give 
me  my  cues,"  said  Sarah. 

"  Then  what  will  you  do  ?  " 

Sarah  was  at  a  loss,  but  she  regained  courage  suddenly  on 
seeing  two  of  the  jury  smiling  at  her  encouragmgly. 

"  I  will  recite  to  you  a  fable  :  '  The  Two  Pigeons,'  "  she  said. 
When  she  had  finished.  Professor  Provost, one  of  the  jury,  asked 
that  she  should  be  accepted.  "  I  will  put  her  in  my  class,"  he 
said.     "  The  child  has  a  voice  of  gold  !  " 

This  was  the  first  occasion  on  which  Sarah's  "  golden  voice  " 
was  thus  referred  to. 

Sarah,  who  was  eighth  on  the  list  at  the  Conservatoire,  took 
no  prize,  but  she  was  admitted  !  She  was  mad  with  joy.  Her 
mother  condescended  to  praise  her  a  little.  Mile,  de  Brabender 
and  Madame  Guerard  overwhelmed  her  with  caresses.  Little 
Sarah  was  a  member  of  the  Conservatoire  !     Her  career  had  begun. 

Sarah  had  no  conspicuous  success  at  the  Conservatoire.  She 
obtained  indeed  one  second  prize  for  comedy,  but  her  great  talent 
for  the  drama  had  not  yet  developed.  With  the  exception  of 
Camille  Doucet — the  jury  voted  unanimously  that  she  could  not 
be  included  among  those  to  be  given  certificates  of  merit.  Sarah, 
despite  her  second  prize,  returned  home  in  tragic  mood. 

"  It  was  the  second  great  disappointment  of  my  life,"  she  said, 
when  she  related  it  to  me  years  later.     "  I  crept  up  to  my  bed- 

82  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

room  and  locked  the  door.  Had  there  been  any  poison  at  hand  I 
would  have  taken  it.  I  was  seized  with  a  great  desire  to  end  my 
life,  I  thought  of  the  Convent,  of  Mere  Sainte-Sophie.  Oh,  if 
they  had  only  let  me  become  a  nun,  instead  of  entering  this 
vast,  unkind  world  of  the  theatre  !  I  cried  my  eyes  out  and  finally 
went  to  sleep, 

"  When  I  awoke,  it  was  late  at  night.  There  was  not  a  sound 
in  the  house.  My  fury  had  spent  itself,  and  only  a  great  despair 
remained.  The  thought  that  I  would  have  to  face  my  mother 
the  next  day  seared  my  soul.  How  could  I  stand  her  sarcasm, 
that  cutting  phrase  I  knew  so  well :   *  Thou  art  so  stupid,  child  !  ' 

"  I  determined  I  would  end  it  all  for  ever.  I  would  die.  I 
would  creep  out  of  the  house  while  no  one  watched,  run  down  to 
the  quai  and  throw  myself  in  the  Seine,  .  .  . 

"  I  approached  the  door,  unlocked  it,  opened  it  cautiously. 
As  I  did  so  a  piece  of  paper,  that  had  been  thrust  into  the  jamb, 
fluttered  to  the  ground,  I  took  it  nervously.  It  was  a  letter 
from  Madame  Guerard,  my  faithful  old  nurse.  I  retraced  my 
steps  into  the  room  and  held  the  letter  to  the  candle  as  I 
incredulously  read  the  message  it  contained  : 

"  '  While  you  were  asleep  the  Due  de  Morny  sent  a  note  to 
your  mother  saying  that  Camille  Doucet  has  confirmed  that 
your  engagement  at  the  Comedie  Fran9aise  is  arranged  for.  .  ,  .' 

"  My  mood  changed  miraculously.  I  shouted  with  joy.  I 
ran  to  the  door,  flung  it  open,  ready  to  cry  out  my  news  to  anyone 
who  heard  me.  But  the  household  slept.  I  went  back  to  bed  and 
cried  myself  to  sleep  for  very  happiness." 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  83 

The  next  day  Sarah  received  a  formal  letter  summoning  her 
to  the  Com^die.  The  day  following  she  was  engaged,  and  signed 
her  contract.  Almost  immediately  the  began  rehearsing  in  the 
play  Iphigenie. 

About  two  months  before  her  eighteenth  birthday  Sarah  made 
her  dSbut  at  the  Comedie,  in  a  minor  part.  As  a  debutante  from 
the  Conservatoire,  she  was  naturally  fair  prey  for  the  critics. 
The  greatest  of  these  was  Francisque  Sarcey,  who  was  credited 
with  the  power  to  make  or  break  an  actress.  Managers  hung  on 
his  verdicts. 

This  is  what  that  powerful  critic  had  to  say  about  Sarah  on 
the  occasion  of  her  debut : 

"  Mile.  Bernhardt  is  tall  and  pretty  and  enunciates  well,  which 
is  all  that  can  be  said  for  the  moment." 

Another  critic,  James  Berbier,  wrote  : 

"  A  young  woman  named  Sarah  Bernhardt  made  her  ddbut 
at  the  Comedie  on  September  i.  She  has  a  pretty  voice 
and  a  not-unpleasing  face,  but  her  body  is  ugly  and  she  has  no 
stage  presence." 

Still  another,  Pierre  Mirabeau,  declared : 

Sarah  Bernhardt  has  no  personality  ;   she  possesses  only  a 



After  Sarah's  second  dibut,  in  Valine,  this  same  Mirabeau 
wrote  : 

"  We  had  the  pleasure  of  seeing  in  the  cast  at  the  Com6die 

84  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

the  young  woman  Sarah  Bernhardt,  who  made  her  d^but  recently 
in  Iphigenie.  She  has  improved,  but  she  still  has  much  to 
learn  before  she  can  properly  be  considered  worthy  of  the  House  of 

When  Sarah  appeared  in  Les  Femmes  Savantes,  Francisque 
Sarcey,  who  had  ignored  her  in  Valerie,  devoted  several  lines  to 
her  : 

"  Mile.  Bernhardt  took  the  role  of  Henriette.  She  was  just 
as  pretty  and  insignificant  as  in  iphigenie  and  in  Valeric  No 
reflections  on  her  performance  can  be  extremely  gay.  However, 
it  is  doubtless  natural  that  among  all  the  debutantes  we  are  asked 
to  see  there  should  be  some  who  do  not  succeed." 

Sarah  was  furious  at  these  critiques,  but  not  as  furious  as  her 
mother,  who  bitterly  exclaimed : 

"  See  !  All  the  world  calls  you  stupid,  and  all  the  world 
knows  that  you  are  my  child  !  " 

Her  mother  did  not  perhaps  realise  that  her  words  cut  the 
young  actress  straight  to  the  heart.  Above  all  things  Sarah 
had  wanted  to  please  Julie  ;  above  all  things  Sarah  had  feared 
her  mother's  harsh  criticisms. 

That  night  she  was  found  moaning  in  her  dressing-room.  A 
doctor,  hurriedly  called,  declared  she  had  taken  poison,  and  she 
was  rushed  off  to  the  hospital. 

For  five  days  Sarah  hovered  between  life  and  death,  finally 
rallying  after  four  of  the  best  doctors  in  Paris  had  been  called 
in  to  aid  in  the  fight. 

In  response  to  questioning  by  her  old  friend,  Madame  Guerard, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  85 

Sarah  confessed  that  she  had  swallowed  the  contents  of  a  bottle 
of  liquid  rouge.  Asked  the  reason  for  this  strange  and  terrible 
act  she  answered  : 

"  Life  was  useless ;  I  wanted  to  see  what  death  was 
Hke  !  " 

I  have  always  believed  that  it  was  her  mother's  want  of 
sympathy  for  her  which  caused  Sarah's  desperate  act,  and  if  there 
was  another  reason  the  world  never  knew  it.  Newspapers  of  the 
day  attributed  it  to  a  love  affair,  but  this  Sarah  denied  when  she 
related  the  episode  to  me^ — an  episode,  by  the  way,  which  is  not 
included  in  her  Memoirs. 

"  I  was  wrapped  up  in  my  art,  and  had  no  serious  love  affairs 
at  that  time,"  she  said.  "  I  was  simply  despondent  because  I 
did  not  succeed  fast  enough.  Why  !  not  a  single  critic  praised 

It  was  the  famous  authoress  Georges  Sand  who  took  Sarah  in 
hand  afterwards,  preached  love  of  life  to  her  and  persuaded  her 
that  a  great  future  lay  ahead.  To  Georges  Sand  Sarah  one  day 
confided  : 

"  Madame  Sand,  I  would  rather  die  than  not  be  the  greatest 
actress  in  the  world  !  " 

"  You  are  the  greatest,  my  child  !  "  said  Madame  Sand 
with  conviction,  and  added  :  "  One  day  soon  the  world  will  lie 
at  your  feet  !  " 

Sarah's  morbidity  continued  to  be  one  of  her  chief  charac- 
teristics however.  She  delighted  in  going  to  funerals  ;  and  visiting 
the  Morgue,  that  grim  stone  building  with  its  fearful  rows  of 
corpses  exposed  on  marble  slabs,  was  one  of  her  favourite  diver- 

86  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Death  had  a  weird  fascination  for  her.  Shortly  after  she  entered 
the  Comedie  she  had  a  love  affair  with  an  undertaker's  assistant, 
but  she  broke  off  her  engagement  to  him  when  he  refused  to 
allow  her  to  be  present  at  an  embalming. 

She  used  to  describe  the  robe  she  wished  to  be  buried  in  : 
"  Pure  white,  with  a  crimson  edging,  and  with  yellow  lilies 
embroidered  about  the  girdle." 

The  crimson  edging  and  the  embroidery  were  absent  when  she 
was  finally  laid  to  rest. 

Later  on  we  shall  hear  again  of  this  morbid  streak  in  the 
divine  actress — ^how  she  designed  and  even  slept  in  the  very  coffin 
in  which  she  was  buried  ;  how  once  she  shammed  dead  in  her 
dressing-room  at  the  Odeon  to  such  purpose  that  a  hearse  was 
sent  for  and  the  curtain  rung  down,  while  a  tearful  director 
announced  her  demise  ! 

Her  notorious  temper  had  not  left  her.  If  anything,  it  was  more 
violent  than  ever.  The  stage  door-keeper  at  the  Comddie  on 
one  occasion  called  her  "  Young  Bernhardt,"  omitting  the  honorary 
prefix  of  "  Mademoiselle."  Without  a  word  she  broke  her  parasol 
across  the  man's  head.  Seeing  him  bleeding,  she  hurried  for 
water,  tore  her  silk  petticoat  into  pieces,  and  bathed  and  bound 
his  wound. 

Twenty  years  later,  when  her  name  was  beginning  to  echo 
round  the  world,  this  same  door-keeper  came  to  her  house  and 
told  her  that  he  had  lost  his  position  through  infirmity  and  was 
now  at  the  end  of  his  resources. 

With  one  of  those  gestures  of  munificence  which  mark  the 
tragedienne's  career  like  flashes  of  light,  Bernhardt  turned  to  her 
secretary  and  instructed  him  to  buy  the  old  man  a  cottage  in  his 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  87 

native  Normandy,  and  to  place  a  sufficient  sum  in  trust  to  keep  him 
for  the  remainder  of  his  life.  * 

Bernhardt  made  many  enemies  during  her  first  years  on  the 
stage,  and  some  of  them  remained  her  adversaries  until  their 
deaths.     She  outlived  almost  all  of  them. 

The  afternoon  of  her  debut  at  the  Comedie  was  a  matinee 
exclusively  for  professional  folk  and  critics.  One  of  the  latter, 
an  old  and  embittered  man  named  Prioleau,  was  credited  with 
being  almost  as  powerful  as  Sarcey.  He  was  the  doyen  of  the 
critics,  and  as  such  occupied  a  privileged  position  in  the  wings. 

The  better  to  see  the  performance,  he  shifted  his  chair  until 
it  partly  blocked  one  of  the  exits.  Sarah  Bernhardt,  going  off  the 
stage  backwards,  tripped  over  the  legs  of  the  critic's  chair  and 
nearly  fell.  On  recovering  herself,  she  seized  the  chair  by  it 
legs  and  pitched  the  critic  to  the  floor.  Then  she  turned  on  her 
heel  with  a  fiery  admonition  to  "  keep  your  legs  to  yourself." 

Horrified  actresses  told  the  angry  girl  that  the  man  she  had 
insulted  was  Prioleau,  the  great  critic.  Returning  to  where  the 
choleric  old  gentleman  was  picking  himself  up,  Sarah  set  herself 
squarely  in  front  of  him,  her  eyes  glinting  fire. 

"  If  you  dare  to  say  or  write  a  word  about  me,"  she  warned 
him,  "  I  will  scratch  your  eyes  out  !  " 

The  next  day  she  sent  him  a  written  apology  and  a  bunch  of 
flowers,  following  this  with  a  personal  visit,  in  which  she  pleaded 
with  the  old  man  to  forgive  an  act  of  which  she  would  certainly 
not  have  been  capable  had  she  been  in  her  right  senses.  Prioleau 
never  forgave  her,  but  he  never  used  his  heavy  weapon  of  sar- 
casm against  her.  Perhaps  he  always  secretly  believed  in  her 
threat.     He  died  not  long  afterwards. 

88  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Sarah  was  an  extraordinary  mixture  of  pugnacity  and  senti- 
ment. One  day  she  found  a  dog  investigating  her  overturned 
bottle  of  smelling-salts.  Infuriated  she  dropped  the  poor  Httle 
creature  out  of  the  dressing-room  window  on  to  a  small  ledge 
from  which,  if  it  had  moved,  it  would  have  fallen  four  or  five 
stories  to  the  ground. 

Five  minutes  later  shouts  attracted  a  crowd  to  the  dressing- 
room,  where  they  found  a  maid  desperately  hanging  on  to  Sarah's 
feet,  while  the  young  actress  hung  head  downwards  outside  the 
window,  in  order  to  rescue  the  dog.  Having  got  the  animal  up 
safely,  she  took  it  home  and  smothered  it  with  kindness, 
never  permitting  it  to  leave  her  until  it  died  of  old  age  fourteen 
years  later." 

Sarah's  love  for  animals — particularly  ferocious  ones — ^was 
one  of  the  abiding  passions  of  her  life.  At  different  times  she 
owned  a  pink  monkey  given  her  by  an  African  explorer,  a  wild- 
cat which  was  presented  to  her  during  one  of  her  American  tours, 
and  two  hon  cubs,  baptised  "  Justinian  "  and  "  Scarpia."  All  four 
were  tame  and  often  accompanied  her  to  the  theatre,  remaining 
in  her  dressing-room  while  she  played. 

She  also  once  brought  back  with  her  from  Mexico  a  tiger  cub, 
which  terrorised  her  household  and,  when  she  took  it  to  the 
theatre  one  day,  nearly  broke  up  the  performance  by  eating  and 
tearing  the  curtains.  The  cub  was  finally  poisoned  by  somebody 
in  Sarah's  entourage.  On  one  occasion  I  saw  Sarah  feeding  live 
quails  to  this  tiger  cub  in  her  dressing-room.  The  same  day  it  bit 
Madame  Johet,  the  prompter. 

Another  savage  creature  Sarah  once  owned  was  a  dog.  She  had 
only  to  say  to  him  "  Allez  !  "    (Go  !)  and  he  would  spring  at  any- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  89 

one's  throat.  One  day  when  we  were  at  the  Hotel  Avenida, 
Lisbon,  Sarah  asked  me  to  go  to  my  room  to  fetch  something  for 
her.  As  I  went  out  I  heard  her  say  "  Allez  !  "  and  the  dog  sprang 
at  me.  Fortunately  my  husband  arrived  just  in  time,  and  tore 
the  dog  away.  White  with  fury,  Pierre  said  to  Sarah  :  "If  that 
happens  again,  I'll  kill  the  brute  !  " 

But  I  never  believed  Sarah  did  the  thing  deliberately.  She 
was  very  apologetic. 

But  this  is  digressing  from  our  story.  We  left  Sarah  as  a 
ddhutante  at  the  Comedie  Fran9aise.  Her  dehut,  as  we  have  seen, 
was  not  very  brilliant.  But  if  her  entrance  into  France's  most 
famous  theatre  was  not  particularly  exciting,  her  exit  was  the 

90  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


In  the  Comedie  Fran^aise  stands  a  statue  :  the  bust  of  Molifere, 
the  great  actor-pla3rwright  to  whom  the  theatre  is  dedicated. 
Each  year,  on  the  anniversary  of  his  death,  every  actor  and  actress 
belonging  to  the  company  attached  to  the  playhouse  must  file  past 
the  statue  and  salute. 

It  was  due  to  an  incident  occurring  during  this  annual  cere- 
mony that  Sarah  Bernhardt  left  the  Comedie  for  the  first  time. 

The  actresses  were  assembled  in  a  corridor  giving  access  to 
the  statue — the  socidtaires  (actresses  who  had  completed  their 
period  of  apprenticeship)  naturally  taking  precedence  over  the 
debutantes.  All  were  in  costume,  and  over  the  costumes  they 
wore  the  long  mantle,  showing  their  badge  of  membership  of  the 
Comddie.  These  mantles  had  long  trains  and,  in  endeavouring 
to  avoid  treading  on  one  of  them,  little  Regine  Bernhardt,  who 
held  Sarah's  hand,  inadvertently  stepped  on  that  worn  by  Madame 
Nathalie,  one  of  the  oldest  actresses  of  the  theatre,  whom  Sarah 
described  as  "  old  and  wicked." 

Madame  Nathalie  turned  and,  roughly  seizing  the  child, 
pushed  her  so  violently  that  she  was  flung  against  a  stone  pillar 
bruising  her  side  and  cutting  her  face. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  forgot  the  solemnity  of  the  occasion,  forgot 
the  distinction  of  the  company,  forgot  everything  except  that  her 
little  sister  had  been  wantonly  struck. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  91 

"  Beast  !  "  she  cried,  and,  running  to  the  old  actress,  slapped 
first  one  side  of  her  face  and  then  the  other,  as  hard  as  she  could 
strike.     The  blows  resounded  throughout  the  corridor. 

Madame  Nathalie  remained  rooted  to  the  spot.  Sarah  stood 
before  her,  with  panting  bosom  and  eyes  flashing  fire.  For  an 
instant  it  looked  as  though  the  ceremony  would  be  spoiled,  but 
other  members  of  the  company  rushed  between  the  two  and  they 
were  hurried  in  different  directions. 

The  next  day  she  was  summoned  to  the  office  of  M.  Thierry, 
director  of  the  Comedie. 

"  Your  conduct  has  been  disgraceful,  mademoiselle  !  "  he 
said,  "  and  your  engagement  should  be  cancelled  immediately, 
but  I  have  decided  to  give  you  one  chance  to  make  amends. 
Waiting  in  the  next  room  are  Madame  Nathalie,  and  two  other 
socidtaires.  You  will  apologise  to  Madame  Nathalie,  in  their 
presence,  and  in  mine." 

"  Apologise  to  that  woman  who  injured  my  baby  sister  ?  " 
cried  Sarah.     "  Never  !  " 

"  Think,  mademoiselle,"  urged  Thierry.  "  Unless  you  do  so 
you  leave  the  Comedie  !  " 

Leave  the  Comedie  !  After  all  the  torturing  months  of  prepara- 
tion, after  all  the  help  she  had  received  from  the  Due  de  Momy, 
from  Camille  Doucet  and  her  other  friends,  after  the  hard  struggle 
at  the  Conservatoire.  Sarah  saw  her  mother's  bitter  eyes,  heard 
her  scornful  tongue. 

She  knew  that  her  admission  to  the  Comedie  Frangaise  had 
been  an  honour  and  a  favour  which  her  performances  at  the 
Conservatoire  did  not  justify.  She  knew  that  if  her  engagement  was 
cancelled  it  was  possible  that  she  might  look  in  vain  for  other 

92  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

employment ;  that  every  manager  in  Paris  might  be  turned  against 
her.  More,  she  knew  that  her  family  would  regard  her  leaving 
the  Comedie  as  a  personal  insult  to  them,  and  it  would,  she  realised, 
be  no  longer  feasible  for  her  to  live  at  home.  Sarah  thought  of 
her  Aunt  Rosine's  triumphant  "  I  told  you  so,"  and  shuddered. 

But,  on  the  other  hand,  she  knew  that  she  was  in  the  right. 
A  sense  of  tremendous  injustice  weighed  upon  her.  This  woman  had 
struck  her  little  sister,  and  she  had  administered  a  deserved 
correction.  What  though  she  were  one  of  the  oldest  societaires 
at  the  Fran9ais.     She  should  be  the  one  to  apologise  ! 

It  took  Sarah  some  five  minutes  to  arrive  at  this,  her  final, 
conclusion,  and  then,  turning  to  M.  Thierry,  she  said  : 

"  If  Madame  Nathahe  will  apologise  to  Regine,  I  will  apologise 
to  her  !  " 

M.  Thierry  looked  at  her  incredulously. 

"  You  mean  that  you  will  allow  a  question  of  pure  pride  to 
interfere  with  your  career  and  perhaps  spoil  your  future  ?  "  he 

"  I  mean  that  if  the  whole  incident  occurred  again,  I  would 
slap  Madame  Nathahe  twice  as  hard  !  "  said  Sarah  angrily. 

M.  Thierry  turned  back  to  his  papers. 

"  Very  well,  mademoiselle,"  he  said ;  "  you  have  until 
to-morrow  afternoon  to  change  your  mind  !  " 

Sarah  did  not  apologise,  and  she  was  not  immediately  sent 
away.  Her  powerful  friends  who  had  supported  her  in  her  effort 
to  enter  the  theatre  made  representations  to  M.  Thierry,  and, 
much  against  his  will,  he  agreed  to  give  the  young  actress  another 

But  Madame  Nathahe  nursed  her  spite,  and  when,  a  few  weeks 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  93 

later,  Sarah  was  given  the  role  of  Dolores,  in  the  play  of  that  name 
by  Brouihet,  she  contrived  to  influence  the  director  to  take  the 
part  away  from  the  girl,  almost  on  the  eve  of  production, 
and  give  it  to  Madame  Favart. 

No  sooner  did  Sarah  learn  this  than  she  bounded  into  M. 
Thierry's  office. 

"  Give  me  my  contract !  "  she  cried.  "  I  resign  !  I  will 
have  nothing  more  to  do  with  your  theatre  !  " 

The  same  evening  she  was  again  a  free  agent.  She  had  left 
the  Comedie.  When  she  returned  home  to  inform  her  mother  of 
her  action,  the  latter  took  it  coolly. 

"  Very  well,"  said  Julie,  "  you  need  look  for  no  further  help 
from  me,  or  from  my  friends.  Hereafter  you  can  do  with  your 
life  as  you  wish  !     You  are  emancipated  !  " 

Sarah  was  then  eighteen  years  old.  From  that  day  on  she 
was  free  of  maternal  control,  and  a  few  weeks  later  she  secured 
a  minor  part  at  the  Gymnase.  After  playing  this,  she  was 
promised  a  leading  part  in  a  play  called  Launching  a  Wife, 
but  this  promise  was  not  kept.  In  her  anger,  Sarah  left  the 
theatre,  packed  her  trunk,  and,  with  less  than  a  thousand  francs, 
left  suddenly  for  Spain. 

In  Madrid  she  developed  a  passion  for  bull-fighting.  At  one 
moment,  according  to  Caroline,  her  maid,  she  became  engaged  to 
Juan  Lopez,  a  famous  matador,  but  at  a  dinner  given  to  celebrate 
the  engagement,  which  was  attended  by  famous  personalities  of 
the  corrida,  Lopez  drank  too  copiously  of  the  strong  vintages  of 
Spain,  and  Sarah,  disgusted,  left  him  and  the  dinner  party 
and  returned  to  her  hotel.  This  incident  decided  her  return 
to  Paris,  and,  borrowing  the  necessary  money  from  the  manager 

94  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

of  the  hotel,  who  had  known  her  father,  she  left  the  next  day. 

This  was  the  first  of  two  mysterious  visits  Sarah  paid  to  Spain. 
Of  the  second,  which  occurred  some  eleven  years  later,  practically 
nothing  is  known.  ***■ 

'Now  began  the  most  painful  period  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's 
life.  No  longer  able  to  face  the  daily  tirades  of  her  mother  and 
her  aunts,  who  called  her  lazy,  idle  and  wilful,  she  left  the  former's 
flat  and  took  one  of  her  own  in  the  rue  Duphot,  close  by  the 

She  drifted  away  from  her  family  and  the  friends  of  her 
childhood  and  made  questionable  acquaintances  in  the  fast- 
living  set  where  her  beauty,  originality  and  wit  made  her 
much  sought  after.  She  became  a  well-known  figure  in  certain 
salons  and  in  the  restaurants  d  la  mode. 

Now  and  again  she  played  small  parts  in  various  theatres, 
but  long  intervals  occurred  between  the  occasions  on  which  she 
worked.  Her  figure  remained  excessively  slender,  boyish  and 
agile.  It  never  became  really  full,  but  its  slenderness  was  less 
noticeable  after  she  had  given  birth  to  her  son,  Maurice.  It 
then  to  some  extent  rounded  out,  only  to  become  thin  again  when 
she  was  forty,  at  which  epoch  she  invented  the  shoulder-length 
glove  to  conceal  the  skeleton-like  outline  of  her  arms. 

The  birth  of  her  son  was  the  event  which  changed  Sarah's 
whole  life.  It  gave  her  something  to  live  for.  Until  then  she 
had  been  a  wilful,  spoiled,  eccentric  girl,  given  to  tremendous 
fits  of  temper  which  were  invariably  followed  by  prolonged 
periods  of  despondency. 

She  had  few  intimates,  and  the  friends  who  gathered  round  her 
were  not  of  the  sort  likely  to  set  her  feet  in  the  right  direction. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  95 

She  had  spells  of  strenuous  energy,  which  would  be  succeeded  by 
fits  of  laziness  lasting  sometimes  for  months,  during  which  time 
she  would  live  parsimoniously  on  small  sums  borrowed  from  stage 
acquaintances  or  from  her  mother's  friend,  the  Due  de  Morny, 
who  still  remained  faithful  to  the  child  for  whom  he  had  done  so 

Nothing,  unless  it  was  her  eccentricity,  distinguished  her  from 
the  hundreds  of  other  lovely  girls  at  that  time  adorning  the  Paris 
stage.  She  had  given  up  her  attempts  at  painting,  after  moderate 
successes  gained  at  several  salons  ;  the  passion  for  modelling  had 
not  yet  seized  her,  and,  although  she  had  undoubtedly  immense 
talent  for  acting,  she  neglected  to  develop  it,  with  the  result  that 
her  theatrical  engagements  were  few  and  far  between. 

She  and  her  young  sister  Jeanne,  then  aged  only  fourteen, 
would  often  be  seen  at  public  balls  of  the  better  class,  dancing 
with  a  cohort  of  young  men,  amongst  whom  were  included  some  of 
the  wildest  members  of  society.  She  was  frequently  a  guest  at 
smart  but  somewhat  questionable  entertainments  in  the  homes  of 
titled  acquaintances,  whose  riches  were  expressed  in  the  luxury  and 
the  beautiful  women  with  whom  they  surrounded  themselves,  and 
in  the  amount  of  rare  wines  they  and  their  friends  consumed. 

Of  average  height,  exceptionally  slim,  with  blue  eyes  alternately 
flashing  wit  and  fire,  and  invariably  costumed  in  the  latest  fashion, 
Sarah,  as  she  neared  her  majority,  was  in  danger,  despite  her  great 
talent,  of  falling  into  that  bottomless  pit  which  still  exists  in 
Paris  for  beautiful  girls,  and  out  of  which  it  is  so  difficult  to  climb. 

She  was  a  member  of  one  of  the  fastest  sets  of  a  fast  city,  and 
only  a  miracle  could  have  been  expected  to  save  her.  Her  health 
was  bad,  she  had  frequent  spells  of  coughing,  and  the  tell-tale 

96  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

flush  of  fever  was  constantly  on  her  cheeks.  To  all  admonitions, 
however,  she  would  reply  that,  if  her  life  was  to  be  a  short  one, 
she  had  better  enjoy  it  to  the  full  while  there  was  yet  time. 

But  the  needful  miracle  happened.  As  the  result  of  an  ardent 
love  affair,  almost  certainly  with  a  man  of  princely  family,  she 
gave  birth  to  a  boy,  whom  she  named  Maurice. 

As  in  her  own  case,  the  accouchement  was  a  difficult  one,  and 
complications  ensued  which  rendered  her  recovery  doubtful. 
The  child  was  under-sized  but  robust,  and  from  his  birth  he 
resembled  his  mother. 

Motherhood  to  Sarah  was  at  once  a  boon  and  a  scourge  that 
whipped  her  flagging  consciousness  of  right  and  wrong. 

It  brought  her  face  to  face  with  the  hard  realities  of  the  path- 
ways of  error,  but  it  gave  her  the  strength  of  character  she 
had  lacked  and  which  was  to  lead  her  up  from  and  out  of  these 
dangerous  pathways.  It  provided  her  with  the  one  thing  that 
had  been  so  far  lacking  in  her  character. 

Motherhood  gave  Sarah  Bernhardt  ambition. 

If  from  then  on  she  became  greedy  of  praise  and  publicity, 
she  at  the  same  time  became  a  strenuous  worker  ;  if  she  was  hard 
with  those  whom  she  used  as  stepping-stones,  she  was  harder 
with  herself  ;  if  she  allowed  her  tongue  to  become  caustic  and 
her  manner  overbearing,  it  was  because  life  had  been  revealed  to 
her  in  its  veritable  aspect,  and  because  she  realised  the  supreme 
necessity  of  building  a  wall  between  herself  and  her  past. 

Intolerant  of  criticism,  exquisite  in  her  art,  mighty  in  labour, 
Sarah  Bernhardt  lavished  on  her  tiny  son  a  love  she  had  never 
believed  she  could  feel  for  any  human  being. 

Every  aim  of  her  existence  was  to  provide  for  him  while 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  97 

he  was  young  the  shield  of  respectability  she  herself  had  never 
known.    - 

Proud  though  she  might  be  to  the  exterior  world,  she  was 
humility  itself  before  the  cradle  of  her  child. 

And  her  struggle  was  no  easy  one.  She  told  me  of  it  one  day 
on  board  ship  while  we  were  travelling  to  the  Near  East, 
and  so  deep  an  impression  did  her  words  make  on  me  that  I  can 
remember  them  almost  textually. 

"  When  my  son  was  born,"  she  said,  "  I  had,  for  all  my 
fortune,  the  sum  of  two  hundred  francs.  If  it  had  not  been  for 
Madame  Guerard,  who  officiated  at  the  birth  of  my  child  as  she 
had  officiated  at  my  own,  I  do  not  know  what  I  should  have 

"  I  owed  ten  times  two  hundred  francs  in  small  tradesmen's 
bills,  scattered  about  the  city.  My  mother  was  ill,  and  could  not 
be  appealed  to.  I  was  ashamed  to  go  to  my  other  friends,  such 
as  the  Due  de  Morny,  who  would  have  been  only  too  glad  to 
have  helped  me,  and  I  forbade  Madame  Guerard  to  say  a  word  to 
anyone  about  my  predicament. 

"  When  my  sister  Regine  came  to  see  me,  she  was  told  that 
I  had  a  contagious  disease  and  could  not  be  seen.  Later  on  it 
was  given  out  that  I  had  left  Paris  for  a  holiday  in  the  country. 
*  "  When  the  first  week  was  up  I  had  scarcely  a  sou.  It  was 
then  that  I  determined  to  appeal  to  the  one  man  whom  duty 
should  have  compelled  to  aid  me,  and  I  sent  a  letter  to  the 
Prince,  imploring  him  to  take  pity  upon  me  and  upon  our  child. 

"  The  Prince's  reply  was  brutality  itself :  '  I  know  a  woman 
named  Bernhardt,'  he  wrote,  '  but  I  do  not  know  her  child.' 
The  note  enclosed — fifty  francs  ! 

98  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  I  persuaded  myself  that  there  was  a  mistake.  I  could  not 
beheve  that  the  man  I  had  loved  could  be  so  cruel. 

"  I  dragged  myself  out  of  bed  and  went,  faint  and  ill,  to  a 
mansion  in  the  rue  de  Lille,  where  the  Prince  was  that  night 
giving  a  joyous  fete. 

"  I  was  shown  into  an  ante-room  and  waited  nearly  an  hour 
before  the  Prince  finally  condescended  to  see  me. 

"  Standing  there  in  the  doorway  like  a  magistrate  come  to 
judge — to  judge  me,  the  mother  of  his  child  whom  I  carried  in 
my  armS' — he  asked  me  what  I  wanted.  I  could  not  believe  his 

"  '  I  have  come  to  show  you  your  child,  and  to  demand  your 
recognition  of  him  ! '  I  answered. 

"  The  Prince's  reply  was  to  become  purple  with  anger,  to 
thump  his  fist  on  the  table,  and  not  only  to  deny  the  child,  but 
to  make  the  most  monstrous  allegation  conceivable. 

"  Nearly  fainting,  I  went  from  the  house  in  tears,  my  baby's 
cries  mingling  in  my  ears  with  the  music  of  the  dance  and  the 
shouts  of  the  reckless  party  within."  * 

Such  was  the  first  great  trial  of  the  woman  who  was  to  become 
the  most  famous  tragic  actress  on  the  world's  stage. 

The  fortitude  that  Sarah  Bernhardt  gave  proof  of  then  became 
the  basis  of  the  strong  character  which  slowly  formed  from  that 
day  onwards.  Scorned  by  the  man  who  of  aU  men  had  best  the 
right  to  help  her,  Sarah  bitterly  determined  to  make  the  males  of 
the  species  pay  for  the  agony  of  her  calvary. 

This  was  the  turning  point  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  life.  In  one 
respect  the  world  owes  the  evil  Prince  ■ — —  a  debt,  for  had  he 
recognised  the  child,  had  he  lavished  money  and  tenderness  upon 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  99 

the  mother,  there  is  a  probabiHty  that  she  would  never  have  found 
the  will  and  determination  which  were  the  earnest  of  her  future 
success.  Never  was  the  adage  that  courage  is  born  of  necessity 
truer  than  in  the  case  of  the  young  Sarah  Bernhardt. 

''Forced  to  work  to  support  her  child,  whom  she  sent  to  a  pro- 
fessional nurse  in  Normandy,  Sarah  laboured  with  a  fierceness 
and  a  tenacity  unequalled  in  the  history  of  the  stage. 

She  found  work  at  the  Gymnase,  at  the  Porte  St.  Martin, 
at  the  Vaudeville,  at  the  Lyric  and  at  other  theatres.  Never 
allowing  herself  a  moment's  rest,  studying  her  parts  far  into  the 
night,  arriving  always  the  first  for  rehearsals,  she  gamely  set  foot 
on  rung  after  rung  of  the  ladder  which  she  had  herself  set  up. 

Her  reputation,  which  had  been  so  sadly  tarnished  by  her 
previous  mistakes,  became  once  more  satisfactory.  She  enjoyed 
the  friendship  of  influential  managers  and  playwrights.  It  was 
not  long  before  she  became  marked  for  success.  Critics  began 
to  comment  favourably  on  her  work,  especially  in  La  Biche  au 
Bois,  a  play  at  the  Porte  St.  Martin,  which  gave  her  her  first 
opportunity  as  a  star,  and  which  resulted  in  her  being  offered 
a  contract  by  M.  Fournier  for  three  years.  * 

Before  she' accepted  this  contract,  however,  Lambert  Thiboust, 
a  well-known  playwright,  asked  her  to  take  the  name  part  in 
La  Berghre  d'lvry,  and  she  accepted' — subject,  of  course,  to  the 
approval  of  the  directors  of  the  Ambigu  theatre,  where  the  piece 
was  to  be  played. 

These  directors  were  two  men  named  Faille  and  Chilly. 
Chilly  had  a  mistress,  Laurence  Gerard,  whom  he  desired  to  have 
the  part.  To  please  Thiboust,  however,  they  consented  to  give 
Sarah  a  hearing  in  the  rehearsal  room  of  the  Ambigu,  and  thither 

100  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

she  went  and  recited  a  part  she  had  learned  at  the  Comedie 
Fran9aise  in  On  ne  hadine  pas  avec  V amour.  There  was  complete 
silence  until  she  had  finished,  and  then  Faille  rose  and  shook  his 
head  sadly. 

"  My  poor  little  girl,"  he  said,  with  assumed  sympathy,  "  you 
cannot  take  this  part !  You  are  too  thin- — and,  besides,  you  are 
in  no  way  equipped  for  the  theatre  !  You  are  not  even  a  good 
actress  !  " 

Sarah  could  hardly  believe  her  ears. 

"  Tenez,"  pursued  Faille,  "  here  is  Chilly,  who  has  heard  you 
from  behind  that  curtain.     Ask  him  what  he  thinks." 

Sarah  turned  to  Chilly,  the  little  director  who  was  later 
to  be  intimately  associated  with  her  career, 

"  Lambert  Thiboust  is  crazy  !  "  said  Chilly  shortly.  "  You 
would  be  no  good  in  the  part,  mademoiselle  I  We  cannot  give 
it  to  you  !  " 

As  Sarah  went  out,  more  or  less  in  a  daze,  she  passed  Laurence 
Gerard  on  her  way  in.  Then  she  realised  why  she  had  lost  the 

Later  on.  Chilly  became  famous  as  co-director  of  the  Odeon. 
Faille  never  succeeded,  and  years  later,  taking  pity  on  him,  Sarah 
Bernhardt  acted  in  a  benefit  performance  to  establish  a  fund 
for  his  old  age. 

Sarah  was  ever  generous  in  such  matters.  She  never  forgave 
an  enemy  who  remained  powerful,  but  she  could  always  forgive 
and  forget  when  poverty  or  misery  overtook  those  who  had  done 
her  harm. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  loi 


Following  the  fiasco  of  her  lost  engagement  at  the  Ambigu, 
Sarah  Bernhardt  visited  her  old  and  faithful  friend,  Camille 
Doucet.  She  was  kept  waiting  some  minutes  in  an  ante-room, 
and,  on  being  bidden  eventually  to  go  into  his  office,  almost  ran 
into  a  tall,  handsome  young  man,  who  had  been  in  conference 
with  Doucet.  The  man  stopped  and  apologised,  and  Sarah  was 
conscious  of  two  deep-set  blue  eyes  regarding  her  with  a  real 

"  Is  this  not  Mademoiselle  Sarah  Bernhardt  ?  "  the  tall  man 
asked.  On  Sarah's  hesitating  admission  that  he  was  right,  the  man 
continued  : 

"  I  have  just  been  talking  to  Doucet  about  you.  Come  in, 
and  we  will  see  him  together." 

Sarah  followed  him,  not  knowing  who  her  new  acquaintance 
was,  nor  understanding  the  nature  of  his  business  with  her. 
Once  in  Camille  Doucet's  office,  however,  she  was  quickly  informed. 

"  This  is  Pierre  Berton,  junior,"  said  Doucet,  introducing 
her,  "  He  would  like  to  see  you  a  member  of  his  company  at 
the  Odeon." 

Sarah  was  overwhelmed.  Pierre  Berton  was  then  one  of  the 
most  popular  actors  on  the  French  stage  ;  he  was  also,  after 
Mounet-SuUy,  the  handsomest.  To  have  been  singled  out  by 
him  for  a  part  at  the  Odeon  was  an  honour  she  had  never  dared 

102  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

dream  of.  There  was  no  actor  in  France  with  whom  she  would 
sooner  have  worked. 

Sarah  was  too  much  taken  aback  at  the  sudden  proposition 
to  say  much.  Extending  her  hand  to  Berton,  she  thanked  him 
with  a  smile. 

"  There  is,  however,  an  obstacle,"  went  on  Doucet.  "  I 
have  just  learned  this  morning  that  the  Odeon  staff  has  been 
reorganised  and  that  Chilly  has  been  named  co-director  with 

Sarah's  spirits  fell  like  lead.  How  could  she  hope  for  an 
engagement  at  the  Odeon,  when  one  of  the  men  who  would  have 
to  sign  her  contract  was  the  same  who  had,  only  a  few  days  pre- 
viously, said  publicly  that  she  could  not  act  ?  Seeing  her  down- 
cast Berton  tried  to  reassure  her. 

"  You  need  not  be  afraid  of  Chilly  !  "  he  said.  "  I  have 
spoken  to  Duquesnel,  and  he  is  on  our  side.  Chilly  will  have  to 
agree  !  " 

An  appointment  was  made  for  Sarah  to  see  Duquesnel  on  the 
following  day  and,  after  some  further  conversation,  Berton  offered 
to  accompany  Sarah  home.  In  the  cab  Sarah  asked  him  what 
was  the  reason  for  his  interest  in  her. 

"  Since  the  day  I  saw  you  in  Les  Femmes  Savantes  at  the 
Comedie  Frangaise,"  Berton  answered,  "  I  have  believed  that 
you  would  one  day  become  a  very  great  actress,  but  I  believe 
also  that  you  need  someone  to  aid  you  with  the  directors,  who  do 
not  understand  your  temperament.  I  have  watched  you  for  two 
years,  and  I  am  prepared  to  help  you  at  the  Odeon,  as  far  as 
possible,  if  you  will  allow  me  to  do  so." 

Sarah's   reply,   Berton  told  me  in  later  years  after  I  had 

Pierre  Berton,  Husband  of  Mme.  Berton,  and  one  of  Sarah's  Earliest 

Intimate  Friends. 

p.    102. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  103 

become  his  wife,  was  to  seize  and  kiss  his  hand  impul- 

From  that  moment  began  the  wonderful  romance  which 
developed  between  these  two — Pierre  Berton,  the  accomplished 
and  successful  actor,  and  Sarah  Bernhardt,  the  debutante  of 
twenty-two.  Their  relationship  lasted  a  little  over  two  years. 
When  it  finished — we  shall  see  why  presently — Sarah  was  as 
great  an  actress  as  he  an  actor.  In  two  short  years  she  had 
leaped  to  fame. 

They  met,  as  arranged,  in  Duquesnel's  office  at  the  Odeon, 
on  the  day  following  Sarah's  meeting  with  Berton  and  Doucet. 
Sarah  was  immediately  taken  with  Duquesnel,  a  mild,  blue-eyed 
man,  endowed  with  prodigious  activity  and  with  the  name 
of  being  possibly  the  greatest  metteur-en-scene  in  Paris.  He  was 
exceedingly  courteous  to  her  and  set  her  at  ease  immediately 
by  declaring  that  he  thought  her  engagement  could  easily  be 

She  asked  about  Chilly.  "  You  shall  see  him  to-morrow," 
promised  Duquesnel.     Sarah  looked  at  Berton. 

"  I  have  spoken  to  him,"  said  the  actor,  "  and  he  has  promised 
to  leave  the  engagement  of  the  company  in  my  own  hands,  pro- 
viding the  salaries  and  the  lengths  of  the  contracts  are  supervised 
and  agreed  to  by  him  and  Monsieur  Duquesnel." 

Later  on  Sarah  discovered  that  what  had  actually  happened 
was  that  Chilly,  spoken  to  the  evening  before,  had  flatly  dechned 
to  consider  Sarah  as  a  member  of  the  company. 

"  She  is  not  an  actress,  and  shows  no  promise  of  ever  being 
one  !  "  he  repeated. 

And  then  Pierre  Berton  had  threatened  to  resign,  so  that 

104  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

in  face  of  this  threatened  calamity  Chilly  had  given  way.  He 
had  insisted,  however,  that  the  responsibility  for  Sarah's  engage- 
ment should  rest  with  Berton  and  Duquesnel. 

The  next  day  Sarah  went  to  Duquesnel's  office  again,  and  was 
introduced  to  Chilly,  who  presented  her  with  her  contract. 

"  Believe  me,  mademoiselle,"  he  said,  "  had  I  been  alone  in 
this  matter,  you  would  not  have  been  engaged  !  " 

"  If  you  had  been  alone  here  I  would  not  have  consented  to 
sign  !  "  said  Sarah  haughtily. 

For  months  after  that,  she  told  me,  she  hated  Chilly.  In 
reality,  however,  he  was  a  decent  little  fellow,  and  a  man  of 
great  ability,  whose  only  fault  was  his  obstinacy.  Later  on  he 
and  Sarah  became  fast  friends,  and  when  Sarah  left  the  Odeon, 
to  return  to  the  Comedie  Fran9aise  as  the  triumphant  idol  of  the 
French  stage,  it  was  Chilly  who  went  on  his  knees  to  her  and 
implored  her  to  reconsider  her  decision. 

Sarah  entered  the  Odeon  in  1866.  In  1868  she  was  famous. 
In  1872  she  re-entered  the  Comedie  Fran9aise,  where  she 
remained  eight  years.  In  1882  she  was  married,  and  in  1889 
became  a  widow. 

I  give  these  dates  now  because  the  period  comprised  by  them 
was  that  in  which  Sarah  Bernhardt  reached  the  supreme  pinnacle 
of  her  glory,  and  it  was  during  this  period,  also,  that  the  most 
romantic  episodes  of  her  life  occurred. 

Le  Jen  del' Amour  etdu  Hasard  (The  Game  of  Love  and  Luck), 
by  Marivaux,  was  the  piece  in  which  Sarah  made  her  debut 
at  the  Odeon.  Berton  and  Duquesnel  were  mortified.  Chilly 
was  triumphant :    Sarah  had  failed  ! 

There  was  no  mistaking  the  failure.     Scarcely  any  applause 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  105 

was  vouchsafed  the  young  actress  and  so  conspicuous  was  her  lack 
of  success  that  the  piece  was  withdrawn  within  a  few  weeks, 
after  playing  to  half -empty  houses. 

Chilly  wanted  to  break  her  contract,  but  Berton  and  Duquesnel 
restrained  him.  Berton  gave  it  as  his  opinion  that  Sarah  was 
made  for  tragedy,  whereas  the  play  by  Marivaux  was  a  comedy, 
and  Sarah's  part  obviously  unsuited  to  her. 

Among  the  famous  people  who  were  in  the  audience  the  night 
Sarah  Bernhardt  made  her  dehut  at  the  Odeon  was  Alexandre 
Dumas  the  elder.  After  the  play  was  over  Sarah  overheard 
Duquesnel  ask  him  : 

"  What  do  you  think  of  the  young  Sarah  ?  " 

"  She  has  the  head  of  a  virgin  and  the  body  of  a  broom- 
stick !  "  retorted  Dumas,  dryly. 

Sarah  was  then  earning  the  munificent  sum  of  100  francs 
(four  pounds)  a  month.  From  the  estate  of  her  father  she  still 
received  a  small  amount' — not  more  than  200  francs  monthly, 
and  on  this  income  was  obliged  to  live. 

For  several  months  she  worked  as  an  understudy,  Chilly 
obstinately  refusing  to  consent  to  her  taking  any  important  roks. 

During  this  period  the  love  of  Pierre  Berton  for  his  erratic 
little  protegee  grew  enormously.  On  more  than  one  occasion  he 
asked  her  to  marry  him,  but  Sarah  refused,  on  the  ground  that  it 
would  be  unfair  to  the  woman  who  for  years  had  lived  with  Berton 
as  his  wife,  and  who  had  presented  him  with  four  children. 

The  fact  that  Berton  was  willing  and  even  anxious  to  abandon 
this  woman  (his  wife  in  all  but  name)  and  his  family  indicates 
the  depth  of  his  passion  for  Sarah  Bernhardt.  He  confessed  to 
me  in  later  life  after  our  marriage  that   "  the  days  that  Sarah 

io6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Bernhardt  consented  to  devote  to  me  were  like  pages  from  im- 
mortality.    One  felt  that  one  could  not  die  !  " 

That  Sarah  returned  his  love  is  a  fact  too  well  known  to  need 
confirmation  here,  but  I  have  always  doubted  whether  she  gave 
to  Pierre  the  full  and  sincere  depth  of  the  passion  he  brought  to 
her.  Sarah's  was  a  nature  too  complex  to  harbour  any  deep 
feeling  for  long. 

There  is  also  the  indisputable  fact  that  at  this  moment  she 
was  living  solely  for  the  stage,  the  animating  force  within  her 
being  a  determination  that  her  baby  son  should  never  lack  for 
money  or  advantages.     Neither  has  he,  throughout  his  long  life. 

Life  at  the  Odeon  was  toil  fierce  and  unremitting,  but  Sarah 
loved  it.  She  would  wake  at  nine  o'clock  and  read  over  her 
parts,  both  in  bed  and  while  she  was  dressing.  At  eleven  o'clock, 
and  often  again  in  the  afternoon,  there  were  rehearsals  of  plays 
quite  different  from  the  one  that  was  to  be  given  at  night. 

Her  evident  desire  to  work,  combined  with  the  glorious  quality 
of  her  voice,  which  was  already  becoming  renowned  among  play- 
goers, brought  even  the  manager.  Chilly,  round  to  her  side. 
Reliability  and  hard  work  were  his  two  fetishes.  He  could  not 
forgive  Sarah  her  thin  legs,  but  he  was  madly  enthusiastic  over 
her  voice. 

"  Oh  !  if  you  could  only  act  !  "  he  said  to  her  on  more  than 
one  occasion. 

Fine  acting  is  not  precisely  a  gift  of  the  gods  ;  it  is  the  ulti- 
mate result  of  a  willingness  to  acquire  technique  by  constant 
attention  to  petty  details.  No  actor  ever  became  great  over- 
night who  had  not  spent  weary  months  in  the  acquisition  of 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  107 

Now,  three  principal  acquirements  go  to  make  up  stage  tech- 
nique. First,  there  is  what  is  known  as  stage  presence,  or  the 
abihty  to  lose  one's  o-s^tl  individuality  in  the  part  one  is  playing. 
Secondl3^  there  is  the  speaking  voice,  which  should  be  so  perfected 
that  a  whisper  may  carry  drama,  pathos  or  humour  to  the  topmost 
gallery  and  be  understood.     Thirdly,  there  is  memory. 

Sarah  had  the  voice  and  she  certainly  had  a  marvellous  memory. 
She  could  take  the  book  of  a  new  part  at  night  and  return  on  the 
following  afternoon  with  the  role  committed  to  memory.  Once 
she  had  learned  it,  Sarah  never  forgot  a  part,  even  though  she  might 
be  playing  two  different  pieces,  afternoon  and  night. 

WTien  Berton  wrote  Zaza,  the  play  for  which  he  is  best  known 
in  England,  she  went  over  it  with  him,  taking  a  whole  night  to  do 
it.  The  next  day  Berton  was  to  read  it  to  an  audience  of  managers 
and  producers.  While  he  was  reading  the  third  act,  Sarah 
objected  to  his  way  of  interpreting  one  of  the  parts. 

"  It  should  go  like  this,"  she  said — and  forthwith  she  recited 
for  fifteen  minutes  words  which  she  had  only  read  once.  On 
comparison  with  the  book  it  was  found  that  she  had  not  made  a 
single  mistake. 

In  the  '8o's  I  attended  a  picnic  at  St.  Germain,  and  heard  Sarah 
recite  a  part  in  Iphiginie,  the  first  play  in  which  she  appeared  at 
the  Comedie  Fran9aise,  and  in  which  she  played  only  on  two 
occasions  during  her  long  career.  There  was  never  a  moment 
after  she  became  internationally  famous  when  Sarah  could 
not  recite  out  of  her  prodigious  memory  the  whole  of  the  words 
of  any  one  of  fifty  or  sixty  different  plays. 

I  have  said  that  her  voice  was  becoming  known  in  Paris. 

io8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

One  day  Georges  Sand  came  to  her  dressing-room.  Looking  very 
mysterious,  she  said  : 

"  There  is  a  gentleman  outside  who  has  fallen  in  love  with  your 
voice  !  " 

"  Send  him  away  !  "  retorted  Sarah  petulantly.     She  was  in 
a  bad  humour,  in  consequence  of  a  quarrel  with  Berton. 

"  You  cannot  send  this  man  away,  my  dear  !  "  said  Madame 
Sand.     "He  is  the  Prince  !  " 

"  Never  mind  ;  I  do  not  want  to  see  him,  Prince  or  no  Prince," 
declared  the  young  actress. 

After  much  coaxing,  however,  she  consented  to  meet  the 
"  gentleman  in  love  with  her  voice,"  and  descended  to  the  stage, 
where  she  found  Prince  Napoleon  talking  with  Louis  BouiUiet. 
Sarah  shook  his  hand,  instead  of  kissing  it,  as  was  the  custom, 
and  said  never  a  word.     The  Prince  was  furious. 

"  She  is  spiteful,  your  little  kitten,"  he  said  to  Georges  Sand. 
"  She  is  a  Madonna,  sire  !  "  said  the  authoress. 
"  A  Madonna  who  acts  like  a  devil !  "  retorted  the  Prince, 
shortly,  and,  turning  on  his  heel,  he  walked  away. 

He  came  back  many  times,  however,  and  was  often  one  of  a 
party  in  Sarah's  dressing-room.  The  news  that  she  was  the 
recipient  of  royal  favour  soon  got  abroad,  and  sarcasms  were 
printed  in  some  of  the  liberal  weeklies.  When  she  read  them, 
Sarah  sent  a  note  to  the  editors  : 

"  Criticise  my  performances  on  the  stage  if  it  pleases  you, 
but  my  private  life  should  be  free  of  insult.  Furthermore,  I 
have  loyal  friends  who  will  protect  my  name  with  their 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  109 

This,  too,  was  published,  and  all  Paris  laughed  at  the  actress 
who  thought  it  an  insult  that  her  name  should  be  linked  with 
that  of  a  prince.  Other  people  in  the  profession  thought  it  a 
pose,  but  Sarah  was  quite  sincere.  She  was  fascinated  by  the 
smooth,  cynical  flow  of  the  Prince's  conversation,  and  she  could 
not  openly  bid  him  remove  himself  from  her  presence.  At  the 
bottom  of  her  heart,  however,  she  disliked  him  profoundly  and 
was  at  small  pains  to  conceal  it. 

Once  an  artist  of  revolutionary  tendencies,  one  Paul  Des- 
hayes,  entered  Sarah's  dressing-room,  to  find  there  Prince 
Napoleon,  Madame  Sand  and  several  others.  Deshayes  was 
seeking  his  gloves,  which  he  had  left  in  the  room  a  few  minutes 
before.     Turning  to  the  Prince  he  said  curtly  : 

"  You  are  sitting  on  my  gloves,  monsieur  !  " 

The  Prince,  turning  red  with  anger  at  this  unceremonious 
mode  of  address,  took  the  gloves  and  flung  them  on  the  floor. 

"  I  thought  the  chair  was  clean  !  "  he  said  contemptuously. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  jumped  to  her  feet,  picked  up  the  gloves,  and 
handed  them  to  Deshayes. 

Then,  turning  to  the  Prince,  she  said  hotly  : 

"  Politeness  used  to  be  considered  a  privilege  of  kings,  sir, 
but  I  perceive  that  they  do  not  teach  it  to  princes  !  " 

This  incident  also  found  its  way  into  print  and  Sarah's  reputa- 
tion gained  another  notch.  All  this  time  she  had  yet  to  score 
a  genuine  success  on  the  stage. 

This  came  towards  the  end  of  her  first  year  at  the  Odeon, 
in  circumstances  which  were  much  commented  on  at  the  time. 
All  Paris  was  in  arms  against  Alexandre  Dumas,  the  most  mahgned 
author  who  has  ever  lived.     On  the  night  of  the  premiere  of  Kean, 

no  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Dumas  appeared  in  a  box  at  the  Odeon  accompanied  by  his 
mistress,  Ada  Montrin. 

Cries  came  from  all  over  the  house  calling  on  him  to  "  send 
the  woman  away."  Dumas  tried  to  speak,  but  his  voice  was 
drowned  in  cat-calls.  Hundreds  of  students  stood  on  their 
seats,  chanting  an  obscene  song  that  had  been  written  about 

Finally  the  woman  and  Dumas  both  left' — the  latter  to  take 
refuge  behind  the  wings,  and  the  former  to  depart  from  his  life 
for  ever. 

Duquesnel,  Chilly,  Berton  and  the  whole  company  were  in 
terror  when  the  curtain  was  about  to  be  raised.  They  expected 
a  warm  reception  and — they  got  it  Berton,  who  was  playing 
the  part  of  Kean,  could  not  make  his  voice  heard  beyond  the 
footlights.  For  a  moment  there  was  a  question  of  cancelling  the 

Then  Sarah  Bernhardt,  in  the  first  big  role  of  her  career — that 
of  Anna  Danby — came  upon  the  stage,  and,  from  the  first  words,  a 
hush  settled  over  the  house.     Her  glorious  voice  filled  the  theatre. 

Cahn  and  unflurried,  though  in  reality  intensely  nervous,  Sarah 
continued  speaking  her  part.  The  words  of  the  poet  were  given 
their  exact  intonation,  every  syllable  distinct  from  its  neighbour, 
and  fell  upon  the  breathless  house  like  the  limpid  notes  of  a 

When  she  had  finished,  there  was  at  first  silence,  and  then  a 
roar  of  approval.  Sixty  students,  their  hands  locked  together, 
rushed  round  the  house  and  threatened  to  invade  the  stage. 
Sarah,  appalled,  believed  it  was  a  demonstration  against  her. 
Her  cue  came  to  leave  the  stage.     She  rushed  off  and  up  to  her 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  iii 

dressing-room,  whence  she  could  dimly  hear  the  unceasing  roar 
from  the  theatre. 

Duquesnel,  rushing  in,  found  her  white  as  a  sheet  with  terror. 
Duquesnel  himself  was  pale,  and  perspiring  in  great  drops. 

"  Come  !  "  he  said  to  Sarah,  extending  his  hand,  "  they  want 
you  !  " 

Sarah  shuddered  and  shrank  backwards. 

"  Come  !  "  said  Duquesnel  again,  impatiently.  "  I  tell  you 
they  want  you  ! — Hark,  cannot  you  hear  them  calling  ?  " 

Through  the  open  door  the  din  from  the  house  came  with 
greater  volume.     Sarah  could  not  distinguish  a  word. 

"  They  are  mad  about  you,  child  !  "  cried  Duquesnel,  as  he 
saw  she  did  not  believe  him.  "  They  will  not  let  the  play  go  on 
until  you  go  on  and  speak  to  them  !  " 

Then  Sarah  understood  that  this  was  not  failure.  It  was 
triumph,  success,  glory  !  She  took  Duquesnel's  arm  and  went 
hesitatingly  on  to  the  stage,  not  even  noticing  that  she  was  still 
attired  in  the  kimono  which  she  used  as  a  wrap  between  the 

When  she  appeared  before  the  curtain  pandemonium  broke 
lose.  "  Sarah  !  "  "  Sarah  !  "  "  Our  Sarah  !  "  the  audience 

And  "  Our  Sarah  "  she  was  to  the  populace  of  Paris  from  that 
day  onwards. 

She  was  famous.  She  hurried  back  into  the  wings  and  brought 
on  Berton  Senior,  and  they  gave  him  an  ovation  too.  But  always 
there  was  the  chant :    "  Sarah  !  "  "  Our  Sarah  !  " 

The  students  were  mad.  Sarah  resolved  to  win  them  over 
to  Dumas,  and  sent  word  for  him  to  come  on  the  stage.     But 

112  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Dumas  had  gone,  suffocated  by  tears  at  what  he  beUeved  bitterly 
to  be  the  assassination  of  his  brain-child.  The  next  morning, 
when  he  learned  the  truth,  he  sent  Sarah  a  note  thanking  her. 
Sarcey  was  the  only  critic  who  did  not  join  in  the  chorus  of 
praise  which  followed  in  the  press.  Writing  in  the  Courrier  de 
la  Semaine  he  stated  : 

"  I  have  nothing  to  add  to  my  previous  opinion  of  Made- 
moiselle Sarah  Bernhardt,  who,  it  appears,  had  some  success 
with  the  noisy  students  the  other  night.  Her  voice  is  exquisite, 
certainly,  but  she  is  just  as  certainly  not  an  actress." 

The  original  means  Sarah  took  to  humble  Sarcey  and  to  bring 
him  to  her  side  will  be  described  in  the  next  chapter.  Meanwhile, 
he  remained  her  most  bitter  and  most  persevering  critic. 









(U       . 
•  ^    +-' 

Cu  -a 






Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  113 


Out  of  a  multitude  of  aspiring  actresses  Sarah  Bernhardt,  at  the 
age  of  twenty-four,  had  jumped  into  celebrity  practically  in  a 
single  night.  The  success  of  Kean  continued  ;  the  theatre  was 
packed  night  after  night.  Berton,  hitherto  the  greatest  figure  on 
the  stage  of  the  Odeon,  himself  had  to  bow  before  the  woman  whose 
genius  he  had  been  the  first  to  perceive. 

Their  intimacy  continued,  though  necessarily  in  secret,  on 
account  of  Berton's  other  attachments.  Success  turned  Sarah's 
shock  head  a  little,  but  for  many  months  she  remained  faithful 
to  the  loyal  man  who  had  befriended  her  and  had  made  her 
victory  possible.  Their  idyll  was  the  talk  of  the  theatre.  No  one 
then  dreamed  how  bitterly  she  would  turn  against  him  in  later 

She  had  no  lack  of  other  admirers.  They  flocked  round  her. 
There  was  Jules  Garnier,  and  most  notable  of  all  perhaps  Fran9ois 
Coppee,  whose  genius  Sarah  discovered  in  an  odd  way. 

She  was  dining  in  the  house  of  a  friend  and  was  introduced 
to  a  small,  pale-faced  young  man,  whose  wealth  of  dark  hair  was 
smoothed  back  from  his  brow.  "  He  had,"  Sarah  told  me  later, 
"  the  eyes  of  a  dreamer  and  the  head  of  a  saint." 

Coppee  shyly  shook  her  hand,  and  seemed  to  want  to  say 

something,  but  to  be  too  bashful. 

"  Come,  Fran9ois,"  urged  Madame  Agar,  the  great  tragedienne, 


114  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

who  was  the  hostess,  "  you  have  been  wanting  to  meet  Mile. 
Bernhardt  for  weeks,  and  now  that  you  have  the  chance  you  are 
dumb  !  " 

"  He  has  written  a  play,"  she  explained  to  Sarah,  "  and  he 
thinks  that  you  should  be  the  one  to  play  in  it." 

"  It  was  written  for  you,"  said  the  young  poet,  simply. 
Fran9ois  Coppee  was  then    unknown,  and    Sarah  had  never 
heard  his  name  before.     But  the  subtle  compliment  of  writing 
a  play  round  her  touched  her  heart,  and  she  determined  to  grant 
him  his  wish. 

"  We  will  hear  it  at  once  !  "  she  decided. 
Two  hours  later  she  had  enthusiastically  promised  to  make 
Duquesnel  and  Chilly  produce  the  piece,  which  was  called  Le 
Passant,  and  within  four  months  it  was  produced  at  a  benefit 
matinee.  Then,  after  it  had  proved  an  enormous  success,  it  was 
included  in  the  regular  Odeon  repertoire,  which  it  has  never  since 

If  Kean  had  been  a  triumph  for  Sarah,  Le  Passant  was  a 
vindication.  There  had  been  many  to  hint  that  her  success  in 
Kean  was  only  an  accident  due  to  fortuitous  circumstances  and 
to  the  fact  that  she  was  popular  with  the  students  who  thronged 
the  theatre  on  the  first  night.  But  when  she  carried  all  before 
her  in  Le  Passant,  she  proved  herself  to  be  the  great  actress  that 
she  really  was. 

Every  critic  except  the  dour  Francisque  Sarcey,  who  still 
persisted  in  ignoring  her  talent,  joined  in  an  enthusiastic  chorus 
of  praise,  and  they  said  much  more  about  her  than  they  did  about 
Agar,  who  was  in  reality  the  star  of  the  piece. 

Duquesnel  was  triumphant ;  Chilly  was  delighted.    They  had 

Sarah    Bernhardt   in   Le  Passant. 

p.  114. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  115 

found  another  star  worthy  of  the  greatness  of  their  theatre. 
They  were  summoned  to  play  Le  Passant  at  Court,  in  the  mag- 
nificent setting  of  the  Tuileries.  The  Emperor  Louis  Napoleon, 
after  the  performance,  descended  from  his  throne  and  kissed 
Sarah  on  both  cheeks,  afterwards  presenting  her  with  a  diamond 
brooch  set  with  the  Imperial  initials. 

This  brooch  was  not  among  the  property  of  the  tragedienne 
which  was  recently  sold  by  auction  in  Paris,  and  I  believe  there 
was  a  story  that,  pressed  for  funds  during  a  trip  to  London  after 
the  revolution,  she  pawned  it  and  never  subsequently  regained 
possession  of  it.  She  was  like  that  all  her  life.  Always  the 
desperate  need  for  money,  always  the  large  extravagance,  the 
royal  expenditures  that  she  could  not  afford  ! 

This  was  the  age -of  literary  giants.  Neither  politics,  nor  even 
religion,  had  half  the  power  to  stir  the  passions  of  the  educated 
masses  that  a  literary  war  between  two  editors  or  two  dramatists 
possessed.  The  two  great  rivals  for  public  popularity  were  Victor 
Hugo  and  Alexandre  Dumas  the  elder,  and  there  was  a  deal  of 
fanaticism  in  the  fervour  of  their  respective  partisans.  Public 
meetings  were  held  denouncing  one  or  the  other.  Victor  Hugo's 
political  martyrdom  was  of  recent  memory,  and  this  gentle 
character,  this  splendid  genius,  was  the  prey  of  attacks  which 
were  at  once  unscrupulous  and  false.  Newspapers  were  started 
by  chiefs  of  the  different  literary  factions,  and  dozens  of  duels, 
some  of  them  mortal,  resulted  from  the  wanton  attacks  on  the 
reputations  of  two  of  the  greatest  men  of  the  time. 

Sarah's  first  meeting  with  Victor  Hugo  occurred  about  a 
week  after  the  premiere  of  Le  Passant,  in  which  she  took  the 
adolescent  male  role  of  Zanetto.     It  suited  her  to  perfection,  for 

ii6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

she  had  retained  her  boyish  slimness  and  her  general  allure  of 

After  the  performance  she  was  presented  to  Hugo,  who  had 
been  watching  the  play  from  the  depths  of  a  loge.  Public  opinion 
was  running  high  in  Paris  at  the  moment,  and  it  was  considered 
inadvisable  that  either  Victor  Hugo  or  Alexandre  Dumas  should 
show  themselves  in  public. 

Sarah  had  ignorantly  allowed  herself  to  be  carried  away  by 
the  fulminations  of  the  Dumas  clique  at  the  Odeon,  and  actually 
shuddered  when  she  held  her  hand  out  to  Hugo  to  be  kissed. 

"  Ah,  mademoiselle,"  remarked  the  great  author,  with  a  sad 
smile,  "  I  see  that  my  greatest  trial  is  to  come  in  your  prejudice 
against  me  !  " 

Sarah  was  touched,  and  could  not  bring  herself  to  believe  that 
this  meek  man,  with  the  deep  marks  of  suffering  about  his  eyes, 
was  really  the  monster  his  enemies  would  have  the  world  believe. 
It  was  currently  rumoured  that  Hugo  was  an  anarchist,  that  he 
had  deserted  his  wife,  that  he  had  five  mistresses  at  one  and  the 
same  time,  and  that  his  life  consisted  of  one  immorality  after 
another.  He  was  accused  of  many  political  crimes  also — and 
with  as  much  reason. 

"  I  am  my  own  judge  of  men,  monsieur,"  said  Sarah. 

Victor  Hugo  bowed  low,  muttered  a  word  of  adieu  and  later 
wrote  Sarah  as  follows  : 

"  Mademoiselle, 

"  Yesterday  I  was  presented  to  you,  trembling  lest 
you  might  not  accede  to  my  request  and  play  in  my  Ruy  Bias.  But 
I  was  tongue-tied  in  the  presence  of  your  beauty  and  your  charity  ; 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  117 

I,  who  am  a  man  of  words,  was  dumb.  I  pray  you,  see  Chilly  ; 
he  knows  my  wishes.  Believe,  mademoiselle,  in  my  sincere 

"  Victor  Hugo." 

Sarah  saw  Chilly,  only  to  be  informed  by  him  that  it  had 
been  decided  to  put  off  the  revival  of  Rtty  Bias  until  the  following 
season.  Instead,  when  Le  Passant  was  finished,  Sarah  played  as 
star  in  three  plays  which  definitely  established  her  position  as 
one  of  the  greatest  actresses  of  the  period.  These  plays  were 
L' Autre,  a  delicious  comedy  by  Georges  Sand,  Le  Bdtard  and 
Theuriet's  Jean  Marie. 

Before  she  could  play  Ruy  Bias,  the  war  of  1870  broke  out. 

Before  we  go  into  the  war  experiences  of  Sarah  Bernhardt, 
experiences  which,  moreover,  forged  her  character,  into  a  species  of 
flexible  steel,  two  episodes  must  be  mentioned  which  have  been 
published  before,  but  which,  in  my  opinion,  have  been  scurrilously 
misinterpreted.  One  refers  to  the  fire  in  her  fiat  in  the  rue  Auber, 
near  the  Opera,  and  the  other  to  the  serious  illness  that  followed 
one  of  Sarah's  everlasting  practical  jokes — which  this  time  took 
the  form  of  trying  to  make  the  world  believe  that  she  was  dead  ! 

Sarah  had,  as  before  stated,  taken  a  seven-room  flat  in  the 
rue  Auber  which,  with  the  aid  of  certain  of  her  family,  who  were 
now  only  too  willing  to  resume  their  relationship  with  her,  she 
had  somewhat  luxuriously  furnished.  That  in  this  connection 
she  went  heavily  into  debt  to  various  furniture  dealers,  decorators 
and  the  like  I  do  not  doubt,  for  such  became  her  invariable 
practice  in  later  life.  From  the  day  she  jumped  into  fame, 
she  was  invariably  surrounded  by  dealers  anxious  to  sell  her  all 

ii8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

sorts  of  things,  from  jewelry  to  houses,  and  from  pianos  to  horses 
and  carriages.  These  men  knew  that  her  salary  at  the  Od^on 
was  still  only  i6o  francs  per  month,  on  which  she  could  certainly 
barely  afford  an  attic.  They  knew  also  that  the  income  she 
received  from  her  father's  estate  had  been  greatly  diminished, 
and  was  now  less  than  200  francs  monthly. 

With  less  than  500  francS' — twenty  pounds — a  month,  and 
with  the  inevitable  extra  expenses  incidental  to  her  career,  what 
could  Sarah  Bernhardt  be  expected  to  afford  ?  Her  mother 
could  spare  her  nothing.  Her  aunt  Rosine,  in  an  effort  to  placate 
the  girl  for  the  many  slights  of  childhood,  had  given  her  two 
ponies  and  a  smart  little  carriage,  but  this,  at  the  same  time,  cost 
a  good  deal  to  keep  up.  None  of  her  other  relatives  gave  her 
anything.  When  she  appealed  to  them  they  would  say  :  "  Why 
do  you  ask  us  ?  You  are  a  famous  actress,  and  famous  actresses 
can  always  have  money  !  " 

How  true  that  was,  Sarah  had  early  found  out.  I  do  not 
think  it  was  any  particular  regard  for  morality  which  kept  her 
from  treading  the  path  so  many  of  her  sister  actresses  were 
obliged  to  tread,  and  from  procuring  herself  one  or  more  rich 
protectors  ;  it  was  rather  that  Sarah's  whole  life  now  was  bound 
up  with  the  stage,  and  that  in  her  love-affairs  she  consequently 
never  strayed  beyond  its  charmed  circle. 

I  do  not  say  that  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  any  less  or  any  more 
"  immoral  "—and  we  must  try  and  remember,  we  readers  of  a 
d  fferent  race,  that  the  moral  code  of  1870  was  not  that  of  to-day — 
than  were  the  half-dozen  other  leading  actresses  of  the  time  ;  but 
I  do  assert  that  she  never  formed  a  liaison  merely  for  the  sake  of 
the  protection  and  wealth  it  could  give  her. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  119 

When  Sarah  loved,  when  this  briUiant  woman  gave  herself, 
it  was  always  for  her  art,  and  to  someone  who  could  assist  her  in 
the  material  realisation  of  her  lofty  and  ambitious  dreams. 
Such  a  thing  as  forming  an  alliance  merely  to  rid  herself  of  the 
burden  of  poverty  probably  never  even  entered  her  mind,  which 
was  always  lifted  above  the  sordid  things  of  hfe.  But  when,  as  in 
the  case  of  Pierre  Bert  on,  she  was  offered  the  love  of  a  great  and  a 
noble  character,  or  when,  as  in  the  case  of  Damala,  she  was  swept 
off  her  feet  by  a  romantic  passion,  she  succumbed  willingly  enough. 

A  list  of  the  men  whom  Sarah  Bernhardt  loved  and  by  whom 
she  was  loved  reads  like  a  biographical  index  of  the  great  French- 
men of  the  nineteenth  century.  It  includes  actors,  painters, 
sculptors,  architects,  cartoonists,  poets,  authors,  and  playwrights, 
but  not  one  idle  rich  man  or  rich  man's  son  ! 

It  is  to  be  doubted  whether  Bert  on,  Chiry  or  Duquesnel  helped 
her  to  furnish  the  fiat  in  the  rue  Auber,  and  it  is  therefore  some- 
what of  a  mystery  how  she  managed  to  assemble  the  strange 
setting  which  framed  her  at  this  period  of  her  hfe.  Her  taste  was 
all  Louis  XV.,  and  quaint  bowlegged  chairs  and  tables  were 
scattered  round  her  in  great  disorder. 

Sarah's  was  ever  a  careless  nature  and,  being  extremely  im- 
perious as  well  as  chronically  penniless,  she  could  not  keep  a  maid. 
She  had  her  aged  grandmother  hving  with  her  for  a  period,  and 
she  had  taken  her  baby  from  its  hired  nurse  and  installed  him  in  a 
nursery  at  her  own  home.  The  child  took  up  the  grandmother's 
time,  and  the  household  work  seldom  got  done,  except  when 
Regine,  Sarah's  wild  and  hoydenish  little  sister,  could  be  persuaded 
upon  to  do  her  share. 

"  I  shall  never  forget  my  first  visit  to  Sarah's  flat,"  said  my 

120  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

husband  to  me  once.  "  It  was  on  a  Saturday  afternoon  ;  we 
were  going  over  a  part  together,  and  I  had  promised  to  finish  the 
recital  at  Sarah's  home.  I  arrived  about  three  o'clock,  and  was 
met  at  the  door  by  a  tumble-haired  whirlwind  in  an  old  chemise 
and  skirt,  whom  I  with  difficulty  recognised  as  Regine,  Sarah's 
little  sister.  Regine  looked  as  if  she  had  not  had  a  wash  for  a 
week,  and  perhaps  she  hadn't.  She  had  great  smudges  of  grime 
on  her  face,  and  her  hands  were  black. 

"  She  dragged  me  into  the  salon,  and  here  I  got  ano'ther 
shock,  for  the  room  was  in  the  most  frightful  mess  you  can  imagine. 
Empty  wine  bottles  rolled  about  on  the  carpet ;  the  remains  of  a 
meal  stood  partly  on  the  mantelshelf  and  partly  on  the  table,  all 
mixed  up  with  sheets  of  manuscript,  which  I  saw  were  books  of 
the  plays  which  Sarah  had  appeared  in.  Photographs  in  gilt 
frames  were  here  and  there,  most  of  them  tumbled  on  their  faces, 
and  over  all  was  a  thick  layer  of  dust.  I  had  to  dirty  two  of  my 
handkerchiefs  before  one  of  the  chars  could  be  trusted  not  to  soil 
my  trousers. 

"  From  another  room  a  baby  kept  up  a  wail,  and  I  could  hear 
Sarah  talking  to  it,  trying  to  calm  it.  Sarah's  child  was  then 
nearly  five  years  old,  but  had  the  development  of  a  normal  child 
of  three. 

"  When  Sarah  finally  appeared,  it  was  in  a  long  smock  covered 
with  paint  and  grease.  Her  hair  was  done  anyhow,  and  her  wide- 
set  eyes  sparkled  with  fun  as  she  viewed  my  distaste  for  her 

During  all  the  time  Sarah  and  he  remained  intimate  friends, 
Pierre  told  me,  he  could  never  bring  himself  to  set  foot  again  in 
her  home. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  121 

"  It  spoiled  all  my  conceptions  of  her,"  he  said.  "  In  the 
theatre  she  was  such  a  fairylike,  delightful  creature.  One  could 
not  help  loving  her.     But  at  home !  " 

One  night,  after  a  gay  supper  following  the  theatre,  Sarah 
returned  home  to  find  her  flat,  in  a  building  situated  at  the  corner 
of  the  rue  Auber  and  the  Boulevard  Haussmann,  in  flames. 
The  fire  had  started  in  her  own  apartment,  from  a  candle  in- 
cautiously left  burning  by  a  maid-of-all-work  who  occasionally 
came  to  clean  up.  The  blaze  had  been  discovered  shortly  before 
midnight,  and  at  one  o'clock  in  the  morning,  when  Sarah  arrived, 
it  was  still  confined  to  three  rooms  of  the  flat,  but  showed  symp- 
toms of  spreading,  in  spite  of  the  efforts  of  the  firemen. 

To  her  horror,  Sarah  discovered  that  nobody  knew  whether 
her  baby  had  been  saved  or  not  ! 

There  had  been  nobody  but  Maurice  in  the  flat  when  she  had 
left  it  for  the  theatre  that  night,  with  the  exception  of  the  char- 
woman, who  had  long  since  gone.  The  grandmother  and  Regine 
were  both  absent  in  the  country.  Unless  one  of  the  firemen 
had  seen  and  rescued  the  child,  therefore,  there  was  every  chance 
that  it  was  inside  the  burning  building. 

The  flat  was  of  peculiar  construction,  because  of  the  angle  of 
the  two  streets.  One  end  of  it  was  disconnected  from  the  other 
by  a  passage-way  which  had  doors  at  both  ends.  The  fire  had 
started  on  the  rue  Auber  side,  and  though  it  had  spread  upwards 
and  downwards,  it  had  not  jumped  across  the  court  in  the  rear, 
or  worked  around  the  corner  to  the  Boulevard  Haussmann  side, 
in  which  was  the  nursery, 

Sarah  took  all  this  in  at  a  glance.  Her  intense  horror  and 
dread  of  fire  was  not  even  thought  of.     Brushing  aside  those 

122  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

who  tried  to  hold  her  back,  she  dashed  into  the  Boulevard  Hauss- 
mann  entrance,  ran  up  the  stairs  and  into  her  flat.  Groping  her 
way  through  the  smoke  to  the  nursery,  she  found  her  son  safe  and 
sound  in  a  deep  sleep.  She  wrapped  him  in  a  blanket  and  came 
down  with  him  into  the  street.  There  she  collapsed,  and  was  ill 
for  two  days. 

When  she  was  well  enough  to  hear  the  news,  they  told  her  that 
the  whole  building  had  been  burned  down  and  that,  but  for  her 
courageous  intervention,  her  child  would  undoubtedly  have  been 
burned  to  death. 

The  best  proof  that  Sarah  even  then  possessed  a  number  of 
jealous  enemies  was  the  statement  openly  made  in  the  theatrical 
world  that,  weighed  down  with  debt,  she  had  caused  the  fire  her- 
self in  order  to  collect  the  insmrance. 

This  story,  which  has  since  been  still  more  widely  spread,  is 
refuted  by  the  following  two  facts  :  first,  if  Sarah  had  caused  the 
fire,  she  would  hardly  have  left  her  baby  to  run  the  risk  of  being 
burned  to  death  ;  secondly,  she  had  not  yet  paid  the  premium  on 
the  insurance,  and  it  was  consequently  null  and  void.  Instead  of 
her  collecting  from  the  insurance  company,  it  was  this  company, 
La  Fonciere,  as  the  proprietor  of  a  flat  set  on  fire  through  care- 
lessness, which  collected  from  Sarah. 

She  was  forced  to  pay  the  fabulous  sum  of  forty  thousand 
francs  in  damages,  which  she  was  enabled  to  do  by  the  proceeds 
of  a  benefit  performance  at  the  Odeon,  at  which  Adehna  Patti,  then 
at  the  height  of  her  fame,  sang. 

The  receipts  of  this  benefit  were  more  than  the  necessary 
forty  thousand  francs,  and  with  the  remainder  Sarah  was  able 
to  take  a  flat  at  No.  4,  rue  de  I'Arcade.     It  was  furnished,  how- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  123 

ever  ;  and  Sarah  was  still  without  the  means  to  furnish  a  flat  for 
herself  until  her  late  father's  man  of  affairs  came  and  proposed  to 
arrange  a  cash  payment  to  her  out  of  her  father's  estate  providing, 
she  would  insure  her  life  in  his  favour  for  250,000  francs.  This  was 
done,  and  Sarah  rented  a  large  flat  at  the  comer  of  the  rue  de 
Rome,  almost  opposite  the  one  which  had  been  burned.  This 
she  was  careful  to  insure  immediately. 

The  other  episode  for  which  Sarah  was  much  criticised  was 
her  famous  practical  joke  at  the  Odeon,  after  a  quarrel  with 

A  call-boy  rushed  through  the  theatre  screaming  :  "  Bernhardt 
is  dead  !     Bernhardt  is  dead  !  " 

With  one  accord  the  entire  cast  rushed  off  the  stage  to  Sarah's 
dressing-room,  where  they  were  met  by  an  extraordinary  sight. 

Sarah  was  reclining,  dressed  completely  in  white,  on  a  flat  couch 
placed  in  the  middle  of  the  floor.  Her  hands  were  crossed  over 
her  bosom,  which  appeared  to  be  motionless,  and  a  red  stain  was 
visible  on  her  chin  and  neck.  At  the  four  corners  of  the  couch 
were  placed  gigantic  candles,  like  the  cierges  used  in  churches. 

Who  had  placed  her  like  that  ?  Nobody  knew.  Her  dressing- 
maid  was  in  hysterics,  and  could  not  be  questioned.  Duquesnel 
came  in  and,  taking  in  the  tableau  in  a  glance,  burst  into  tears. 

The  performance  was  stopped  and  the  curtain  rung  down. 
A  doctor  and  an  undertaker  were  hurriedly  sent  for,  and  the 
audience  was  informed  by  the  grief-stricken  Duquesnel  that 
"  Mademoiselle  Sarah  Bernhardt  had  suddenly  passed  away." 

Then,  and  then  only,  did  Sarah  sit  up,  kick  over  the  candles 
with  a  sweep  of  her  legs,  and  amaze  and  scandalise  the  mourners 
by  going  into  screams  of  helpless  laughter.     Duquesnel  was  white 

124  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

with  anger.  Running  to  his  office,  he  wrote  and  signed  a  note 
cancelling  her  contract,  and  stating  that  aftei  that  night  her 
services  would  not  be  required. 

Sarah  threw  the  note  in  his  face  and  flung  herself  out  of  the 
theatre.  For  hours  she  drove  about  in  the  Champs  Elysees, 
careless  of  the  falling  snow.  Next  day  Duquesnel  sent  her  a 
note  stating  that,  on  reconsideration,  she  would  be  permitted  to 
return,  but  that  an  apology  would  be  expected. 

A  few  hours  later  an  emissary  from  Sarah  arrived  at  the 
theatre.  "  She  will  not  come  back  until  you  ask  her  to  do  so 
on  your  knees  !  "  he  told  Duquesnel.  The  latter,  realising  that  he 
stood  in  danger  of  losing  his  most  popular  star,  went  to  Sarah's 
home  and  apologised.  Sarah  reconsidered  her  remarks  about  mak- 
ing him  get  on  his  knees,  and  admitted  that  she  had  only  meant  to 
play  a  little  joke,  and  had  had  no  idea  that  it  would  go  as  far  as 
it  had.  There,  except  for  satirical  comments  on  the  "  crazy 
Bernhardt  "  in  the  weekly  papers,  the  matter  ended. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  125 


Sarah  was  twenty-six  years  old  when  war  was  declared  between 
France  and  Germany.  At  three  o'clock  in  the  afternoon  of  July 
19,  1870,  I,  a  child  still  in  short  frocks,  was  present  with  my 
mother  at  her  apartment  in  the  rue  de  Rome. 

A  rehearsal  was  in  progress  for  some  play,  the  name  of  which 
I  have  forgotten,  and  Sarah  was  reading  the  script  in  her  beautiful, 
expressive  voice,  running  her  hand  through  my  hair  as  she  did 
so,  when  a  servant  came  in  and  announced  that  she  was  wanted 
at  the  door. 

"  What  is  it  ?  "  Sarah  demanded,  angry  at  the  interruption. 

"  A  messenger  from  the  Foreign  Ministry,"  said  the  servant. 
"  He  is  in  a  great  hurry  and  has  instructions  to  deliver  his  message 
to  none  but  yourself,  madame,  personally." 

Sarah  laid  down  the  manuscript  and  went  out  of  the  room. 
Two  minutes  later  she  was  back,  and  I  can  remember  to  this 
day  how  white  her  face  was,  how  brilliant  her  marvellous  eyes. 
She  held  up  her  hand,  in  which  was  a  long  envelope,  and  bade 
everyone  be  silent.  The  twenty  or  twenty-five  people  present 
were  quiet  at  once  and  looked  at  her  expectantly. 

"  We  have  declared  war  !  "  she  cried,  and  the  echo  of  that 
golden  voice,  vibrating  with  emotion,  is  with  me  yet. 

At  once  the  room  was  in  a  buzz  of  excitement.     Everybody 

126  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

was  speaking  at  once.  Theophile  Gautier,  the  bookworm,  who 
was  present,  made  his  voice  heard  through  the  din. 

"  They  are  mad — mad  !  "  he  exclaimed.  Then  he  went  to 

"  From  whom  comes  your  information,  mademoiselle  ?  " 
he  asked. 

"  From  Captain  Lescouve,  deputy  of  the  chef  du  cabinet  of 
Monsieur  OUivier." 

OUivier  was  the  Premier  who  had  declared  war  under  the 
pressure  of  the  "  imbecile  emperor." 

Jane  Essler,  a  famous  artiste  of  her  time,  who  had  been  sitting 
in  a  chair  lazily  watching  the  scene  with  an  expression  of  calm 
indifference,  suddenly  jumped  to  her  feet. 

"  Come,  let  us  go  to  the  Boulevards  !  "  she  cried. 

"  Aux  boulevards  !  "     We  were  swept  away  by  excitement. 

"  No  ;  let  us  go  to  the  Odeon  !  "  shouted  Sarah,  and  this  new 
suggestion  met  with  a  frenzy  of  approval. 

"  A  VOddon  !    A  V  Odeon  !      Vive  la  guerre  !  " 

When  we  came  down  from  the  flat  the  Boulevard  Haussmann, 
or  the  street  now  known  by  that  name,  was  alive  with  people. 
Any  passage  of  vehicles  was  impossible,  so  we  went  on  foot  through 
the  rue  Auber  as  far  as  the  Opera. 

Here  there  was  an  enormous  crowd.  The  great  Place  was 
literally  surging  with  people.  On  the  walls  of  the  Opera  itself 
huge  posters  had  been  pasted  but  a  few  minutes  before.  I 
remember  that  some  of  our  party  tore  them  down  and  stuffed  them 
into  their  pockets  as  souvenirs.  The  posters  explained  the  abrupt 
action  of  the  Government,  and  enjoined  the  people  to  remain 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  127 

"  Victory  is  assured,"  was  one  phrase  that  stands  out  in  my 

Carried  along  by  the  crowd,  we  were  swept  down  the  Avenue 
de  rOpera.  Opposite  the  Theatre  Fran^ais  was  another  huge 
crowd.  Marie  Lloyd — an  actress  who,  by  the  way,  had  been 
Sarah's  competitor  at  the  Conservatoire,  and  who  had  gained  the 
first  prize  which  Sarah  had  coveted — was  standing  by  the  statue 
of  MoH^re,  singing  the  Marseillaise.  Every  time  she  came  to 
"  Marchons  !  Marchons  !  "  the  thousands  of  people  present  took 
up  the  refrain,  and  again  and  again  the  words  of  the  magnificent 
old  song  were  repeated. 

Our  party  got  separated  here,  and  only  five  of  us  managed  to 
reach  the  Pont  Neuf ,  which,  crossing  the  Seine,  led  almost  directly 
to  the  Odeon.  I  was  being  partly  carried,  partly  dragged  by 
my  mother,  and  was  so  wildly  excited  that  I  felt  no  fatigue,  in 
spite  of  the  considerable  distance  we  had  come. 

An  empty  fiacre  passed.     The  poet,  Robert  de  Montesquiou, 
then  a  boy  of  nineteen,  but  even  at  that  time  one  of  Sarah's  firm 
friends,  hailed  it.     The  cocher  looked  at  him  insolently. 
"  A  I'Odeon  !  "  said  Robert. 
"  It  is  five  francs  !  "  replied  the  cocher. 

The  distance  was  not  more  than  seven  hundred  yards,  and 
the  fare  ordinarily  should  have  been  only  one  franc.  De  Mon- 
tesquiou was  indignant  and  started  a  violent  protest,  but  suddenly 
the  cocher  caught  sight  of  Sarah  Bernhardt. 

"It  is  '  our  Sarah  '  ?  "  he  exclaimed.  "  Then  I'm  a  dog  ! 
Come,  I  will  take  you  all,  and  for  nothing  !  " 

I  remember  that  Sarah  climbed  up  on  the  box  next  to  the  old 
coachman  and  gave  him  two   resounding   kisses,  one  on  each 

128  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

bronzed  cheek.  It  appeared  that  the  cocher  was  a  regular  sub- 
scriber at  the  Odeon  ! 

When  we  arrived  at  the  theatre  we  hurried  round  to  the  stage- 
door  and  trooped  up  into  the  wings.  There  we  found  Chilly, 
Duquesnel  and  others  talking  on  the  stage  in  loud  voices.  When 
they  saw  us,  they  set  up  a  shout, 

"  Voild  Bernhardt  !  " 

Chilly  hurriedly  explained  that  the  Government  had  requested 
that  the  theatre  should  be  reserved  that  night  for  a  patriotic 
demonstration,  at  which  some  of  it's  members  would  be 

"  The  Emperor  will  be  here  also,"  he  went  on,  "  and  has  speci- 
ally requested  that  you  will  open  the  proceedings  by  singing  the 

The  doors  opened  at  six  o'clock.  By  6.30  the  theatre  was 
packed.  The  speeches  were  to  begin  an  hour  later.  Sarah  was 
supposed  to  open  the  meeting,  but  when  the  time  came  she  could 
not  be  found  anywhere. 

Distracted  officials  searched  the  theatre  high  and  low,  shout- 
ing for  the  missing  actress.  At  last  the  meeting  began  without 

At  eight  o'clock  Pierre  Berton  walked  in  through  the  stage- 
entrance,  followed  by  Sarah.  Berton  looked  as  black  as  a  thunder- 
cloud. Sarah's  eyes  were  flashing,  and  red  spots  of  temper  were 
on  her  cheeks.  Her  friends  recognised  the  signals  and  the  word 
was  passed  around  :  "  Something  has  gone  wrong  between  Pierre 
and  Sarah  .  .  .  they  have  had  a  row." 

Sarah  went  straight  to  Duquesnel,  who  began  scolding  her 
for  being  late.     But  she  cut  him  short. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  129 

"  I  have  acted  for  the  last  time  with  that  man !  "  she  declared, 
pointing  to  Berton. 

Pierre  looked  on  bitterly.  (All  this  I  had  years  later,  of 
course,  from  friends  who  saw  the  scene.  I  had  been  sent  to  bed 
after  my  fatiguing  afternoon.) 

"  What  is  the  matter  ?  "  asked  Duquesnel,  puzzled  but  not 
despairing,  for  he  knew  Sarah  and  her  fits  of  temper,  although  he 
feared  her  obstinacy. 

"He  is  disloyal !     He  is  a  pro-German  !  " 

Pierre  Berton  darted  forward  with  a  loud  protest. 

"  It  is  a  lie  !  "he  shouted  angrily.  "  She  asked  me  to  come  on 
the  stage  and  sing  the  Marseillaise  with  her,  and  I  said  I  would 
not,  because  I  disapprove  of  the  war  and  of  the  crazy  Emperor  who 
has  declared  it,  as  does  every  sensible  man  in  all  France.  But  I 
am  not  disloyal !     I  am  not  pro-German  !  " 

Sarah  refused  to  listen.  "  You  hear  him  ?  "  she  cried.  "  He 
admits  it  himself  !,  I  will  not  appear  with  him  again  !  I  will  not 
act  with  traitors  !  " 

At  this  remark  flung  at  him  with  the  hiss  of  a  whip-lash  by  the 
woman  he  loved  and  whose  career  he  had  made,  Berton  turned 
away  hiding  his  face  in  his  arm.  Then  he  walked  out  of  the  theatre 
and  was  seen  no  more  that  night. 

A  famous  journalist  of  the  time,  De  Girardin,  was  making  a 
fiery  speech,  the  gist  of  which  was  that  within  a  fortnight  our 
troops  must  be  in  Berlin. 

"  A  Berlin  !  "  howled  the  crowd,  mad  with  frenzy.     And  then, 

glorious  in  its  full-toned  strength,  came  the  voice  of  Sarah,  singing 

the  Marseillaise. 

She  was  standing  at  the  back  of  the  dress  circle,  and  had  not 


130  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

been  noticed  until  she  began  to  sing.  She  was  dressed  in  a  white 
robe  with  a  green  girdle — a  costume  taken  from  one  of  her  plays 
—and  standing  there,  as  those  inspiring  notes  issued  from  her 
splendid  throat,  she  personified  the  very  spirit  of  France. 

"  Allans,  enfants,  de  la  patrie  .  .  ." 

The  whole  audience  was  on  its  feet  singing,  but  ever  above  that 
volume  of  sound  rose  the  golden  tones  of  Sarah  Bernhardt.  Hers 
was  not  a  singing  voice,  but  now  it  rang  out  pure  and  clear  as  a 

Just  as  a  crystal  glass,  tapped  with  the  finger-nail,  will  be 
heard  above  the  din  of  a  great  railway  station,  so  was  Sarah 
Bernhardt  s  voice  heard  above  the  din  and  uproar  of  the  Odeon 
that  night. 

When  she  left  the  theatre,  bands  of  students  seized  her  and 
carried  her  shoulder  high  along  the  Boulevard  St.  Michel,  and 
across  the  Pont  de  la  Cite  to  the  Place  de  Notre  Dame,  where  still 
another  demonstration  was  in  progress.  Again  she  sang  the 
Marseillaise,  and  then  "  Mourir  pour  la  Patrie,"  and  other  patriotic 

She  was  exhausted  when  she  reached  home,  and  had  caught  a 
bad  cold,  which  kept  her  indoors  for  several  days.  During  this 
period,  however,  messengers  arrived  almost  every  hour  bringing 
her  the  news. 

Paris,  they  said,  was  full  of  marching  troops.  The  city  was 
still  in  the  throes  of  excitement.  The  Opera  was  giving  patriotic 
performances  every  night,  at  which  Marie  Sass  was  singing  the 
Marseillaise  from  the  balcony,  so  that  all  Paris  could  join  in. 

The  Emperor  had  gone  to  the  Front.  The  first  clash  had 
occurred  sixty  miles  south  of  Mayence. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  131 

The  theatres  were  still  open,  but  there  was  talk  of  closing  them. 
The  actors  were  organising  a  volunteer  corps,  and  some  had  gone 
already  to  the  front,  but  there  was  a  lack  of  uniforms. 

MacMahon  had  sent  word  from  Reichshoffen  that  all  was  well ; 
the  morale  was  fine  ;   they  would  be  in  Berlin  in  a  few  weeks  ! 

The  papers  were  talking  about  a  rumoured  big  victory.  The 
Germans  in  Paris  were  not  to  be  interned,  but  were  to  be  kept  to 
do  the  work  of  the  city. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  shared  the  popular  belief  that  victory  was  in 
sight,  that  the  war  was  all  but  over.  All  the  newspapers,  every 
lounger  on  the  boulevards  said  it — so  why  should  she  not  believe 
it  to  be  true  ? 

She  went  on  playing  as  usual  at  the  Odeon,  singing  the 
Marseillaise  whenever  requested  to  do  so,  but  she  adhered  to  her 
resolution  not  to  play  with  Pierre  Berton  ;  and  Duquesnel, 
deciding  that  discretion  was  the  better  part  of  valour,  had  care- 
fully arranged  the  bill  so  that  they  would  not  be  called  upon  to 
act  in  the  same  pieces. 

The  two  seldom  met  and  never  spoke.  Berton  came  rarely 
to  the  theatre  ;  he  was  engaged  in  secret  work,  which  some 
declared  was  of  a  revolutionary  nature,  but  it  turned  out  later  that 
he  had  organised  a  corps  of  volunteers  amongst  the  theatrical 
people  out  of  work,  and  was  drilling  them  on  the  fortifications  ! 
Sarah  did  not  know  of  this  at  the  time. 

Victor  Hugo,  of  course,  had  disappeared  from  Paris,  where  his 
last  visit  had  been  made  only  under  pain  of  instant  arrest,  if 
seen  ;  for  he  had  been  banished  from  the  capital  for  his  revolu- 
tionary writings.  But  among  the  papers  of  Hugo,  which  were 
found  at  his  death,  was  a  letter  from  Pierre  Berton,  written  in 

132  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

August  1870,  a  month  after  the  declaration  of  war,  and  smuggled 
out  of  Paris,  in  which  Berton  appealed  to  Hugo  to  "  return  and 
save  France  !  " 

And  France  was  in  need  of  saving  !  No  longer  were  the  boule- 
vards filled  with  maddened  patriots,  excited  by  wine  and  shout- 
ing of  victory  ;  instead,  these  same  patriots  walked  about  with 
a  grave  air,  or  joined  squads  of  men  under  training ;  and  when 
they  spoke  there  was  no  bravado,  but  only  great  determination. 

Wissembourg,  with  the  defeat  and  death  of  General  Douay, 
had  been  the  first  event  to  startle  the  Parisian  out  of  his  self-satis- 
faction and  ignorance.  Then,  two  days  later,  came  the  defeat 
which  definitely  turned  the  tide  against  France- — the  rout  of 
Marshal  MacMahon,  whose  army  was  literally  cut  to  pieces  at 
Freischwiller  and  Reichshoffen.  A  human  torrent  of  four  hundred 
thousand  men  poured  over  the  fields  of  France.  The  country  was 
invaded  ;    Paris  was  in  danger. 

Paris  in  danger  !  The  Parisians  were  not  so  much  inclined 
to  laugh  as  they  had  been  at  first.  It  was  ridiculous,  of  course — 
it  would  take  a  miUion  and  a  half  men  to  besiege  Paris  success- 
fully— but  still,  but  still,  there  was  Wissembourg,  and  the 
undeniable  evidence  of  Freischwiller  and  Reichshoffen  ! 

Count  de  Pahkao,  the  new  head  of  the  Government,  was  a 
friend  of  Sarah's  ;  that  is,  he  had  seen  and  spoken  to  her  once  or 
twice,  and  would  stop  and  bow  when  he  met  her.  One  day  he 
sent  for  her  to  his  office,  at  the  Chamber  of  Deputies. 

"  Mademoiselle,"  he  said,  taking  her  hand,  "  you  can  do  a 
great  work  for  your  country,  if  you  will !  " 

Sarah  asked  him  to  explain.  The  Count  then  said  that  the 
Government  had  noticed  how  enthusiasm  for  the  war  was  dying  ; 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  133 

and  that  something  Uke  panic  was  imminent  in  Paris,  unless 
optimism  and  hope  could  at  once  be  restored  to  the  hearts  of  the 

"  That  is  your  task  !  "  he  finished. 

The  Count's  plan  was  for  Sarah  to  organise  a  committee  of 
artistes,  authors  and  newspaper  writers  of  her  acquaintance,  the 
object  of  which  was  to  instil  into  the  people  of  Paris  renewed  belief 
in  the  success  of  the  campaign.  More  patriotic  performances 
were  to  be  given  ;  patriotic  posters  were  to  be  drawn  up  and 
posted;  and  every  member  individually,  whether  by  word  of 
mouth  or  by  articles  in  the  Press,  was  to  affirm  his  or  her  belief 
that  victory  was  near. 

Sarah  undertook  the  task  with  enthusiasm.  There  is  no 
doubt  now  that  her  part  in  the  defence  of  Paris  was  a  glorious  one. 
There  is  no  doubt,  either,  that  wily  old  Count  de  Palikao,  being 
a  general  and  a  fine  strategist  himself,  was  perfectly  well  aware 
even  then  that  Paris  was  doomed. 

Towards  the  latter  part  of  August  the  efforts  of  the  volunteer 
committee  fell  more  and  more  flat.  The  people  seemed  to 
have  sunk  into  an  apathy  out  of  which  they  could  be  aroused, 
only  at  infrequent  intervals,  by  rumours  of  victories — ^which 
generally  turned  out  to  be  false.  When  Sarah  sang  the  Marseillaise 
now  she  met  with  but  a  feeble  response. 

And  then  came  Sedan,  the  overthrow  of  the  Emperor,  and 
the  Declaration  of  the  Republic. 

Magically,  as  it  seemed,  the  whole  city,  which  had  been 
shouting  its  plaudits  of  Napoleon  III.  but  a  few  months  ago,  had 
turned  republican.  Nobody  would  admit  to  having  ever  been  a 
royahst  !     "  Vive  la  RdpuUiqne  "  sounded  on  all  hands. 

134  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

When  Sarah  Bernhardt  arrived  at  the  Odeon  that  afternoon 
of  September  4 — there  was  no  performance  and  no  rehearsal,  but 
she  could  not  stay  away — it  was  to  find  a  group  of  actors  surround- 
ing Pierre  Berton,  who,  with  a  hammer  and  chisel,  was  carefully 
chipping  away  the  plaster  "  N  "  from  the  front  of  the  royal 

Sarah  stood  and  watched  them  for  some  time  and  then  Berton, 
descending  from  the  ladder,  saw  her. 

"  Mademoiselle,"  he  said,  "  I  was  hoping  that  I  should  see 
you  !  " 

Sarah  stood  speechless.  Taking  her  by  the  arm,  Pierre  led 
her  unresistingly  aside. 

"  I  leave  with  my  regiment  for  the  Front  to-night !  "  he  said. 

"  Where  is  your  uniform  ?  "  demanded  Sarah. 

"  You  shall  see  it  !  " 

Running  up  to  his  dressing-room,  Berton  came  down  a  few 
minutes  later  garbed  in  one  of  the  pitifully  nondescript  uniforms 
of  the  National  Guard — a  grey  kepi  with  a  leather  peak,  a  white- 
and-blue  coat  and  red  trousers.  On  his  arm  were  three  galons, 
showing  his  rank  to  be  that  of  captain. 

Sarah  threw  her  arms  about  his  neck  and  kissed  him  before  the 
entire  company.  Before  nightfall  all  theatrical  Paris  knew  that 
Sarah  Bernhardt  and  Pierre  Berton  were  again  lovers. 

By  now  thousands  of  wounded  were  arriving  in  Paris,  and 
the  temporary  hospitals  were  totally  inadequate.  Great  canvas 
hospitals  were  erected  on  the  fortifications,  but  these  had  to  be 
withdrawn  into  the  city  as  the  German  advance  continued. 
There  was  an  appalling  lack  of  trained  nurses,  and  almost  as  great 
a  lack  of  doctors  and  surgeons. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  135 

The  theatres  were  closed,  and  Sarah  disappeared  for  two  weeks. 
When  she  re-appeared,  it  was  in  the  uniform  of  a  nurse.  She  had 
earned  her  brevet  from  working  in  one  of  the  temporary  hospitals, 
and  even  in  that  short  time  had  learned  not  a  little  of  the  art 
of  caring  for  wounded. 

Her  next  act  was  to  ask  permission  from  the  Comte  de 
Keratry  to  re-open  the  Odeon  as  a  hospital.  This  permission  was 
readily  accorded,  but  no  beds  or  supplies  were  forthcoming, 
and  it  took  all  her  energy  and  influence  to  procure  these. 

She  was  alone  in  Paris.  Her  son  had  been  sent  to  Normandy, 
and  her  mother  and  aunts  had  left  at  the  same  time,  presumably 
for  Normandy  but  in  reality  for  England  and  Holland,  whither 
they  took  the  baby  boy.  While  Sarah  imagined  her  son  safely 
in  a  small  village  near  Havre,  he  was  really  in  London,  and  later 
at  Rotterdam. 

During  the  siege  of  Paris  her  family  left  Rotterdam  and  went 
into  Germany,  and  at  the  very  moment  when  Sarah  was  caring 
for  the  wounded  with  untiring  and  devoted  energy,  her  baby  boy, 
in  charge  of  her  mother  and  aunts,  was  living  in  the  country  of 
the  enemy  at  Wiesbaden.  This  she  did  not  discover  until  after 
the  siege  was  raised.  It  certainly  is  the  best  possible  confirmation 
of  the  nationality  of  her  mother's  family. 

136  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


Sarah  grew  to  know  at  least  two  members  of  the  revolutionary 
government  extremely  well.  One  was  Jules  Favre,  who  was  given 
the  portfolio  of  Foreign  Affairs,  and  the  other  Rochefort,  the 
notorious  editor  of  La  Lanterne,  who  was  taken  out  of  prison  by 
the  mob  on  the  night  the  Empire  was  overthrown. 

Two  more  opposite  characters  it  would  be  hard  to  imagine. 
Favre  was  a  man  in  middle  life^ — calm,  rigidly  upright,  a  thinker 
and  a  statesman.  Rochefort  was  little  better  than  a  literary  apache, 
and  was  the  idol  of  the  worst  quarters  of  Paris.  His  speeches 
were  calculated  to  appeal  to  the  baser  instincts  of  the  mob  ;  those 
of  Favre  were  the  measured  words  of  a  lawyer.  Rochefort,  if 
he  had  ever  seized  the  reins  of  power,  might  have  been  another 
Marat ;  while  Jules  Favre,  if  he  could  not  save  France  from 
mutilation  and  humiliation  at  the  hands  of  Germany,  at  least  aided 
her  in  retaining  her  honour  and  self-respect. 

When  Jules  Favre,  with  Paris  ringed  by  enemy  steel  and  guns 
capable  of  shelling  the  Op^ra  point  blank,  and  its  population 
all  but  starved,  said  to  Bismarck  :  "  Not  one  foot  of  soil !  Not  one 
stone  from  our  fortresses  !  "  he  was  establishing  for  all  time-to- 
come  the  immortal  spirit  of  RepubUcan  France. 

Think  !  Paris  could  have  been  laid  in  ashes  on  the  morrow,  the 
whole  of  France  ravaged  within  a  month,  the  last  soldier  put  to 
the  sword,  all  without  any  possibility  of  resistance — and  there 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  137 

was  found  a  Frenchman  who  could  say  defiantly  to  Bismarck : 
"  Not  one  inch  of  soil !  Not  one  stone  from  our  fortresses  !  " 

Who  shall  dim  the  glory  of  a  nation  like  that  ? 

If  I  seem  to  lay  unwonted  stress  on  the  Franco-Prussian  war — 
now  a  matter,  even  for  the  French,  of  cold,  unsentimental  his- 
tory— it  is  because  it  occurred  at  perhaps  the  most  impression- 
able moment  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  life,  and  has  thus  a  direct 
bearing  on  our  story. 

We  have  just  gone  through  a  war  so  big  that,  although  the 
Armistice  was  signed  five  years  ago,  it  seems  only  yesterday. 
We  have  had  living  evidence  ourselves  of  the  influences  of  war 
upon  the  generation  which  fought  it.  We  know  how  war  can 
alter  the  characters  of  men,  for  we  have  seen  it  react  on  our  own 
brothers  and  fathers  and  sisters.  In  France,  in  1870,  the  women 
did  not  go  to  the  war  as  they  did  in  those  terrible  years  from  1914 
to  1918,  but  they  bore  their  share — possibly  the  heaviest  share — of 
suffering  behind  the  scenes.  In  1870  the  army  in  the  field  was  at 
least  on  the  move,  engaged  in  active  operations  ;  or,  if  it  had  been 
compelled  to  capitulate,  it  was,  at  least,  not  hungry.  But  at  that 
time  the  women  of  Paris  were  very  nearly  starving.  It  is  hard 
to  keep  up  courage,  let  alone  enthusiasm,  on  an  empty  stomach  ; 
but  this  the  women  of  Paris  did  ! 

As  the  Germans  drew  closer  and  closer  to  Paris  and  the  outer 
defences  began  to  fall,  the  flood  of  wounded  that  poured  into  the 
hastily-contrived  hospitals  increased,  until  it  became  a  matter  of 
serious  doubt  whether  there  were  sufficient  beds  to  hold  them. 
Almost  everything  was  lacking — bedding,  medicines,  bandages, 
doctors,  nurses  and  food. 

Starting  with  five  wounded  soldiers,  Sarah's  hospital  in  the 

138  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Odeon  was  soon  taking  care  of  more  than  a  hundred.  I  remember 
visiting  it  with  my  mother  during  the  siege,  and  the  frightfully 
fetid  odour  that  assailed  one  on  entering  the  door  still  lingers  in 
my  nostrils. 

The  wounded  lay  both  in  the  theatre  proper  and  on  the  stage. 
The  beds  were  placed  in  great  semi-circles,  leaving  wide  aisles 
between,  along  which  the  doctors  and  nurses  walked. 

The  nurses  were  nearly  all  actresses  and  friends  of  Sarah 
Bernhardt  whom  she  herself  had  trained.  Their  efficiency, 
naturally,  left  much  to  be  desired,  but  to  the  wounded  they  seemed 
like  ministering  angels. 

Among  the  patients  were  many  German  prisoners,  and  during 
the  siege  these  always  had  the  best  and  choicest  food  obtainable, 
so  that  when  cured  they  could  be  released  and  sent  back  to  their 
army,  to  refute  the  impression  of  a  starving  Paris  ! 

Sarah  told  a  story  of  one  man,  a  corporal,  who  taunted  her  on 
his  arrival  with  the  words  :  "  Oh  ho  !  I  see  the  stories  were 
true !  You  have  had  nothing  to  eat  for  so  long  that  you  are  a 
skeleton  !  " 

This  uncomplimentary  allusion  to  Sarah's  slimness  angered 
her  excessively,  but  she  went  on  bandaging  the  man's  leg,  which 
was  broken.  The  next  day  the  corporal  was  astonished  at  being 
served  with  chicken  soup  for  his  dinner.  On  the  following  one 
he  was  given  boiled  eggs  and  some  young  lamb. 

"  Chicken,  eggs  and  lamb  in  a  starving  city  !  "  he  exclaimed. 
"  Why,  you  have  everything  you  want  !  All  these  stories  of  a 
starving  Paris,  then,  are  untrue  ?  " 

He  did  not  know  that  Sarah's  own  dinner  for  days  had  been 
black  bread  and  beans,  and  that  she  had  not  eaten  meat  for  more 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  139 

than  a  month  !  Whatever  dehcacies  were  brought  to  the  hospital 
were  for  her  wounded. 

Her  face  grew  thinner,  but  took  on  an  added  beauty.  She  did 
not  spare  her  frail  body,  but  worked  from  early  morning  until 
late  at  night.  More  than  once,  when  an  exceptionally  late  convoy 
of  wounded  arrived,  she  worked  all  night  as  well. 

Her  character  became  stronger  and  nobler  ;  forged  in  the  fires 
of  suffering,  the  metal  rang  true.  "  La  Bernhardt  "  became  a 
password  of  homage  among  the  soldiers.  From  a  c^.Te\ess  gamine, 
flattered  by  the  adulation  of  the  multitude,  she  became  a  serious 
woman,  striving  only  for  one  thing  :  the  alleviation  of  suffer- 
ing among  the  soldiers  who  were  giving  their  all  for  their 

It  might  be  said  that  the  war  came  at  an  opportune  moment  in 
Sarah  Bernhardt's  career.  It  demonstrated  to  her  that,  despite 
the  plaudits  of  Paris  and  the  flattery  of  the  multitude,  she  was 
only  an  ineffectual  morsel  of  the  universe.  It  served  to  tame 
her  conceit,  to  teach  her  how  insignificant  individual  success  and 
glory  are  compared  to  the  welfare  or  suffering  of  a  nation. 

Her  character  became  more  subdued,  her  fits  of  temper  less 
violent  and  more  rare.  Her  beauty  had  not  suffered,  however  ; 
rather  had  it  been  enhanced.  Her  eyes,  always  enigmatic, 
had  themselves  gained  something  of  the  sentiment  which  ani- 
mated her  being.  Dressed  in  the  white  of  a  military  nurse,  with 
the  red-and-green  cross  on  either  arm  and  on  her  hooded  cap, 
she  was  ethereally  lovely.  * 

She  used  to  go  round  begging  overcoats  from  her  rich  acquaint- 
ances. The  Odeon  was  large,  coal  scarce  and  heating  difficult. 
It  became  a  proverb  among  the  men  she  knew  :  "  Don't  go  down 

140  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

to  the  Odeon  with  your  overcoat  on,  or  you  will  lose  it :  'la  Bern- 
hardt '  will  take  it  for  her  wounded  !  " 

Nevertheless,  they  were  generous  to  her.  The  Ministry  of 
War,  established  in  the  Palace  of  the  Tuileries,  allowed  her  the 
same  rations  as  those  allowed  to  the  regular  hospitals — and,  in 
fact,  Sarah's  personal  appeals  probably  obtained  for  her  something 

At  any  rate,  even  in  the  darkest  days  of  the  siege,  Sarah  Bern- 
hardt's  wounded  never  lacked  for  anything  essential.  She  set 
every  woman  and  child  of  her  acquaintance  to  work  making 
bandages  and  folding  lint.  I  myself  worked  eight  hours  a  day 
so  doing.  How  I  loved  Sarah  Bernhardt  in  those  days  !  She 
seemed  to  me  to  be  glory  personified. 

When  the  siege  began  there  were,  according  to  official  statistics, 
220,000  sheep,  40,000  oxen  and  12,000  pigs  within  the  city  limits. 
This,  said  the  authorities,  was  ample  to  provide  for  the  wants  of 
Paris  for  five  or  six  months.  And  so  it  would  have  been — if  they 
had  not  forgotten  that  a  live  lamb  or  ox  or  pig  needs  to  be  fed  as 
well  as  the  human  beings  who  are  subsequently  to  eat  them  ! 
They  had  brought  this  vast  army  of  animals  to  Paris,  but  they  had 
forgotten  to  bring  in  sufficient  quantities  of  forage  to  feed  them. 

All  the  public  buildings  were  used  for  storing  either  food  or 
munitions.  The  Opera,  which  had  not  then  been  officially  opened, 
was  organised  as  a  gigantic  warehouse  by  Charles  Garnier,  its 
architect,  and  it  was  discovered  that  a  river  of  fresh  water  flowed 
underneath  its  cellars. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  had  had  her  hospital  in  full  working  order 
for  six  weeks  before  she  discovered  that  all  the  cellars  under- 
neath the  Odeon  were  filled  with  boxes  of  cartridges  and  cases  of 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  141 

shells  !  Since  the  Germans  could  have  shelled  the  Odeon  point 
blank  from  the  heights  of  Bellevue  or  Montretout,  there  was  some 
excuse  for  the  urgent  protest  she  made  in  person  to  Rochefort, 
that  these  munitions  should  be  removed  and  her  wounded  relieved 
from  the  necessity  of  lying  on  a  powder  mine.  Rochefort  saw 
that  the  necessary  orders  were  given. 

As  winter  dragged  on,  the  siege  became  a  wearisome  thing, 
but  the  courage  of  the  Parisians  could  not  be  daunted.  Cut  off 
from  all  communication  with  the  outside  world,  and  even  from 
their  fugitive  armies  in  the  South  ;  starving  and  nearly  at  an 
end  of  their  resources,  there  was  nevertheless  no  real  thought  of 
surrender.  The  Germans  said  Paris  could  not  hold  out  a  month. 
It  had  already  held  out  two. 

The  hardest  thing  was  to  keep  up  the  spirits  of  the  people, 
and  in  this  Sarah  Bernhardt  again  took  a  leading  part.  The 
police  had  closed  the  theatres,  and  many  of  these,  like  the  Od^on 
and  the  Opera,  were  being  used  for  purposes  of  national  defence. 
But  it  was  felt  that  some  amusements  should  be  provided,  so 
Pasdeloup,  the  famous  conductor,  was  asked  to  organise  a  com- 
mittee of  singers,  musicians  and  stage-folk  to  see  if  some  way  could 
not  be  found  of  getting  over  the  difficulty.  Eventually,  on 
October  23,  Pasdeloup  gave  his  first  concert,  and  shortly  after- 
wards Lescouve  re-opened  the  Com^die  Fran9aise, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  organised  a  scratch  theatrical  company 
from  among  those  of  the  actors  and  actresses  of  the  Od^on  who 
were  available,  rehearsed  several  stock  plays  and  gave  them  in  the 
open  air,  for  the  benefit  of  the  troops  of  the  National  Guard, 
who  were  encamped  on  the  fortifications  and  in  the  parks. 

In  November  Pierre  Berton  re-appeared — an  older,  bearded, 

142  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

strange-looking  Bert  on.  He  had  been  in  that  part  of  the  army 
which  was  cut  off  from  Paris,  and  had  only  reached  the  capital 
by  slipping  past  the  German  sentries  at  the  peril  of  his  life. 

"  But  why  did  you  not  stay  in  the  country,  where  you  were 
safe,  and  where  your  family  is  ?  "  he  was  asked.  It  was  true — 
his  mistress  and  his  children  had  long  ago  escaped  to  Tours. 

"  What  ? — stay  out  of  Paris,  and  she  here  ?  "  he  demanded, 
pointing  to  Sarah  Bernhardt. 

Their  intimacy  continued,  but  without  the  great  passion  of 
other  days.  Sarah  was  tender  to  him,  but  made  him  see  that  her 
days  and  nights  belonged  now  to  the  wounded.  Nevertheless, 
Berton  complained  that  others  had  taken  his  place  in  her  heart. 

There  were  four  men,  in  particular,  who  excited  his  jealousy. 
These  were  the  Count  of  Keratry,  under-secretary  for  food  sup- 
plies ;  Paul  de  Remusat,  one  of  the  prevailing  moderate  elements 
in  the  new  Government  and  a  great  friend  of  Thiers  ;  Rochefort, 
who  certainly  had  for  Sarah  a  strange  and  somewhat  uncanny 
attraction,  in  view  of  his  violence  and  his  dissolute  character 
(Sarah  says  of  him  :  "It  was  Rochefort  who  caused  the  downfall 
of  the  Empire  ")  ;  and  finally  Captain  O'Connor,  a  cavalryman, 
who  was  a  much  more  serious  competitor  for  Sarah's  affections 
than  the  other  three.  O'Connor  will  figure  in  these  memoirs 
later  on. 

There  is  considerable  doubt  as  to  whether  Count  de  Keratry 
was  ever  a  lover  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's.  He  had  known  her  since 
she  was  a  child  at  Grandchamps,  when  he  used  to  visit  the  Convent 
to  spend  an  hour  with  a  niece,  who  was  a  pupil  there.  Later,  he  had 
been  introduced  to  her  family,  and  by  the  time  he  received  his 
commission  as  a  lieutenant  of  cavalry  and  was  sent  to  command 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  143 

a  unit  in  the  campaign  of  Mexico,  had  come  to  be  a  rather  frequent 
visitor  in  the  house  in  the  rue  Michodiere.  From  then  on  Sarah 
Bernhardt  did  not  see  him  until  he  returned,  just  before  the 
Franco- Prussion  war,  and  was  given  an  appointment  on  the 
Staff.  After  the  Revolution  he  was  made  a  prefect,  with  special 
charge  over  the  victualling  of  the  city. 

It  was  he  who  saw  that  Sarah's  hospital  was  so  well  supplied 
with  food' — well  supplied,  that  is,  in  comparison  with  other  hos- 
pitals of  a  similarly  independent  character.  During  the  siege 
Sarah  saw  him  frequently,  and  he  went  often  to  the  Od6on. 

He  was  greatly  enamoured  of  the  young  actress,  but  they  were 
both  too  busy  to  give  much  time  to  each  other,  and  certainly 
their  humane  duties  precluded  any  prolonged  love-making.  But 
Berton  saw  in  the  Count  de  Keratry's  frequent  visits  to  Sarah  an 
intrigue  that  threatened  to  oust  him  from  his  privileged  place 
at  her  side,  and  he  made  many  heated  remonstrances  to  that 

Paul  de  Remusat,  an  author,  playwright  and  educationalist, 
and  withal  a  most  supremely  modest  and  unassuming  man,  was 
one  of  the  real  forces  behind  the  revolution,  but  he  was  not  one  of 
the  popular  figures  in  it.     He  seldom  spoke  in  public. 

Sarah  had  been  introduced  to  him,  some  months  prior  to  the 
war,  by  the  younger  Dumas.  She  found  inordinate  pleasure  in 
reading  his  writings,  which  were  of  an  inspiring  beauty.  She 
would  go  to  his  modest  apartment  in  the  rue  de  Seine  and  sit  on 
the  floor  at  his  feet,  one  arm  over  his  knees,  as  he  read  to  her  his 
latest  works. 

It  was  to  Paul  de  Remusat  that  Thiers,  Favre,  Arago,  Cremieux, 
Gambetta,  Jules  Simon,  Ferry,  Picard,  Pages  and  the  rest  of  the 

144  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

revolutionary  committee  came  in  the  afternoon  with  their  plan 
of  action  (that  night  the  Empire  fell).  It  was  de  Remusat  who 
revised  this  plan,  and  advised  them  of  the  pitfalls  that  lay- 

He  could  have  had  anything  in  the  gift  of  the  new  Govern- 
ment. If  the  times  had  not  decreed  that  the  President  must  be 
a  military  man^ — the  honour  eventually  went  to  the  Governor  of 
Paris,  General  Trochu — there  is  no  doubt  in  my  mind  that  Paul 
de  Remusat  would  have  been  offered  the  highest  post  possible 
in  the  new  order  of  things.  The  fact  that  he  had  a  "  de  "  as  prefix 
to  his  name  was  another  drawback,  for  it  only  needed  a  "  de  " 
to  convince  some  people  of  one's  royalist  leanings. 

Eventually,  it  was  decided  to  make  him  Minister  of  Fine 
Arts,  and  a  committee  was  sent  to  him  with  this  idea  in  view. 
That  evening  the  president  of  this  committee,  M,  Th^ophile 
Besson,  sent  for  Sarah  and  said  to  her,  despairingly :  "  It  is  no 
use,  we  cannot  move  him.  You  are  the  only  person  on  earth, 
mademoiselle,  who  can  make  him  change  his  mind !  "  Sarah 
consented  to  do  her  best,  and  saw  de  Remusat  the  next  day. 
He  asked  to  be  allowed  twenty-four  hours  to  think  the  matter 
over,  and  he  then  wrote  to  Sarah  to  this  effect. 

"  Ch^re,  ch^re  amie  :  Allow  me  to  remain,  my  charming 
little  friend,  in  the  shadow,  where  I  can  see  so  much  clearer  than 
I  would  if  smothered  in  honours  !  " 

In  another  letter  a  few  days  afterwards  he  said : 

"  You  know  well  that  you  have  instilled  into  me  an  ideal  of 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  145 

beauty  too  partial  to  be  of  service  to  the  world,  which  makes  me 
prefer  to  avoid  worldly  strife  and  ambitions." 

Throughout  her  career  Sarah  Bernhardt  seemed  to  have 
possessed  this  God-given  faculty  of  elevating  the  ideals  and 
ennobling  the  ambitions  of  men.  The  influence  she  exerted  on 
her  century  in  matters  of  art  was  incalculable.  To  painters  she 
would  say  :  "If  you  love  me,  then  paint  a  masterpiece  and 
dedicate  it  to  me  !  "  To  poets  she  would  say  :  "  If  it  is  true  that 
you  love  me,  you  will  write  a  poem  about  me  that  will  live  when 
we  both  are  dead  !  "  And  true  it  is  that  numbers  of  famous 
verses  to  anonymous  beauty  had  their  inception  in  the  ideal 
which  Sarah  Bernhardt  had  succeeded  in  creating. 

Alexandre  Dumas  fits  once  told  me  :  "  She  drives  me  mad 
when  I  am  with  her.  She  is  all  temperament  and  no  heart ;  but 
when  she  is  gone,  how  I  work  !    How  I  can  work  !  " 

Georges  Clairin  threw  down  his  tools  in  his  studio  one  day, 
interrupting  work  on  a  great  mural  painting  he  was  doing  for  Sarah 
Bernhardt's  house,  and  went  in  search  of  Sarah.  When  he  had 
found  her,  he  remained  half  an  hour  in  silent  contemplation  of 
her  face.  Finally,  he  jammed  his  round  black  velvet  artist's  cap 
on  his  head,  turned  on  his  heel  without  a  word  and,  returning  to 
his  studio,  worked  savagely  on  his  painting  until  it  was 

"  Before,"  he  told  me,  "  it  used  to  be  absinthe  ;  now  it  is 
Sarah  !  " 

Where  other   actresses  prided  themselves  on  their  influence 

in  politics- — there  was  a  time  when  affairs  of  state  were  habitually 

settled  in  the  salons  of  the  reigning  beauties — Sarah,  consciously 


146  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

or  unconsciously,  exerted  her  influence  on  men  of  letters  and 

She  would  not  look  at  a  man  unless  he  was  doing  something 
useful  with  his  life.  She  despised  idlers,  and  was  ever  at  work 
herself.  Not  that  she  was  of  severe  or  strictly  moral  character. 
Far  from  it.  But  she  used  her  beauty  and  her  undisputed  hold 
on  men  in  the  finest  way  possible  :  namely  by  inspiring  and 
creating  idealism  in  the  minds  of  the  clever  men  who  loved  her. 
That  may  have  been  the  secret  of  her  hold  on  men. 

It  became  an  axiom  in  the  theatrical  world  :  "If  you  want  an 
introduction  to  So-and-so  (naming  a  prominent  author,  playwright^ 
or  artist),  go  and  ask  Sarah  Bernhardt." 

Her  influence  on  Pierre  Berton  was  somewhat  of  a  different 
sort,  but  this  was  his  and  not  her  fault.  Berton  had  an  excessively 
jealous  temperament,  as  I  found  out  for  myself  later  on. 

Victor  Hugo  had  returned  in  triumph  to  Paris  from  his  secret 
place  of  exile,  and  Pierre  Berton  was  asked  to  read  his  poem  "  Les 
Chatiments,"  the  daring  and  somewhat  terrible  masterpiece  that 
is  credited  with  having  been  chiefly  responsible  for  the  spread  of 
anti-imperialist  feeling  in  France.  It  was  a  forbidden  work  under 
the  Empire  and  had  previously  only  been  read  in  secret  in  the 

Berton  read  the  poem  in  the  Theatre  Lyrique,  before  a  great 
and  enthusiastic  crowd.  Sarah  refused  to  attend.  She  still 
felt  some  bitterness  against  Victor  Hugo,  for,  though  she  now 
called  herself  a  Republican — it  was  dangerous  to  term  oneself 
anything  else — she  had  preserved  cherished  memories  of  the 
Emperor,  the  Empress,  and  the  Court  in  which  her  acting  had 
once  produced  a  sensation. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  147 

She  had  never  forgotten  that  simple  act  of  generous  courtesy, 
when  the  Emperor  Napoleon  had  descended  from  his  throne  to 
kiss  her  on  the  cheek,  in  recognition  both  of  her  beauty  and  her 
art.  He  might  be  a  prisoner  in  Germany  and  they  might  call 
him  an  imbecile,  but  she  remembered  him  as  a  very  gentle  friend. 
And  the  Empress- — who  had  escaped  from  Paris  in  the  carriage 
of  an  American  dentist' — it  was  she  who  had  commanded  the 
performance  at  the  Tuileries,  and  it  was  she  who  had  personally 
sent  a  note  of  thanks  to  Sarah  at  the  theatre  on  the  following 

Sarah's  memories  of  Royalty  were  inspiring.  And  she  had 
hardly  become  accustomed  to  Republicanism  when  the  existing 
Government  was  swept  away  with  the  Capitulation  of  Paris, 
and  the  horrors  of  the  Commune  introduced. 

Sarah  saw  Paris  set  on  fire  by  the  maniacs  who  said  they  were 
"  saving  the  nation  "  ;  saw  many  of  her  friends  in  political  circles 
shot  dead  without  trial ;  feared,  like  many  others,  that  the  Terror 
was  come  again.  And,  to  add  to  her  trouble,  a  man  whom  she 
had  been  at  some  pains  to  make  an  enemy  was  appointed  chief 
of  police  ! 

This  man  was  Raoul  Rigault,  a  youngster  of  thirty.  He 
had  been  one  of  that  student  band  who  established  Sarah's  fame, 
and  had  presumed  on  this  fact  to  send  her  loving  verses,  and 
on  one  occasion  a  play  in  bad  verse,  which  she  promptly  returned 
through  Berton  as  being  "  unfit  for  her  to  handle,  let  alone  read." 
Rigault  was  furious  and  swore  vengeance. 

When  the  Commune  came,  Rigault  was  appointed  Prefect  of 
Police,  and  he  visited  Sarah  at  her  flat,  situated,  after  another 
move  on  her  part,  in  the  Boulevard  Malesherbes. 

148  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  It  depends  upon  you,  mademoiselle,"  he  said,  "  whether 
there  is  war  or  peace  between  us." 

Sarah,  angered  beyond  measure  at  this  insult,  sprang  up  and 
struck  him  on  the  face  with  the  palm  of  her  hand.  Then  she 
ordered  him  to  be  shown  the  door. 

When  Berton  came  later  in  the  day,  he  wanted  to  seek  out 
Rigault  at  once  and  kill  him.  "  The  rat  !  "  he  kept  declaring, 
"  the  rat  !  " 

He  did,  in  fact,  visit  the  Prefecture  with  the  idea  of  meeting 
Rigault  and  "  calling  him  out,"  but  could  not  find  him.  Before 
the  Communist  could  wreak  his  threatened  vengeance  on  Sarah, 
the  Commune  was  over  and  he  was  executed. 

Immediately  after  the  signature  of  peace,  Sarah  made  a  long 
and  exceedingly  hazardous  voyage  to  Hamburg,  via  Holland, 
where  she  met  her  family  and  saw  her  baby  boy  again .  She  furiously 
abused  her  mother  and  her  aunt  for  daring  to  take  her  son  to 
Germany  during  that  country's  war  on  France,  and  after  their 
return  to  Paris  she  refused  for  some  time  to  have  anything  to  do 
with  her  Aunt  Rosine,  whom  she  regarded  as  responsible  for  the 
outrage.     She  brought  her  son  back  with  her. 

Among  her  acquaintances  before  the  war  had  been  a  man  named 
James  O'Connor,  a  Frenchman  of  Irish  descent.  She  had  had 
little  to  do  with  him  at  this  epoch,  and  had  known  him  only 
as  a  frequenter  of  several  literary  salons  which  she  had  been  in 
the  habit  of  attending. 

Just  before  the  siege  of  Paris,  Captain  O'Connor^ — he  had  been 
given  a  commission  in  the  cavalry^ — was  brought  to  her  hospital 
at  the  Odeon,  suffering  from  a  bullet  wound  in  the  hip.  Though 
his  recovery  was  rapid  his  convalescence  was  long. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  149 

Sarah  tended  him  with  her  own  hands,  and  their  friendship 
ripened  into  a  warm  intimacy.  With  Berton  more  and  more 
involved  in  politics,  and  passing  nearly  all  his  evenings  at  meetings 
in  the  home  of  Victor  Hugo,  Sarah  saw  a  lot  of  the  dashing  Cap- 
tain O'Connor,  and  it  was  he  who,  when  the  Communist  rebellion 
broke  out,  arranged  her  escape  from  Paris  with  her  son,  and 
installed  her  in  a  cottage  between  St.  Germain  and  Versailles. 

Almost  every  day  they  took  long  gallops  together  and  once, 
when  riding  through  the  Park  of  Versailles,  they  were  shot  at  by 
a  crazy  communist  who  had  hidden  himself  behind  a  tree.  The 
bullet  missed  its  mark  and,  turning  in  the  saddle.  Captain  O'Connor 
mortally  wounded  the  man.     Then  he  made  as  if  to  ride  coolly  on. 

"  But  you  are  not  going  to  leave  him  like  that  ?  "  asked 
Sarah,  sick  at  heart,  pointing  to  the  man  who  lay  dying  on  the 

"  Why  not,"  asked  O'Connor,  coldly.  "  He  would  have 
worried  himself  precious  Httle  about  you  and  me  if  he  had  suc- 
ceeded in  killing  us.  Every  day  friends  in  my  regiment  are  killed  in 
this  way  by  some  of  these  madmen  in  ambush." 

Sarah  slipped  off  her  horse  and  supported  the  man's  head  in 
her  arms,  where  a  few  seconds  later  he  expired.  Then,  remount- 
ing with  a  stony  face,  she  gave  her  hand  to  O'Connor. 

"  What's  the  matter  ?  "  he  asked  in  cynical  amazement. 

"  I  will  not  ride  any  further  with  an  assassin  !  "  she  said,  and 
then  galloped  away. 

This  unjust  accusation  deeply  mortified  O'Connor,  especially 
as  Sarah  refused  to  see  him  the  next  day  when  he  rode  over  to 
offer  renewed  explanations  and  to  exact  an  apology. 

150  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


The  Paris  papers  were  full  of  it ;  the  literary  and  theatrical  world 
talked  of  nothing  else  :    Victor  Hugo  was  to  be  played  again  ! 

It  was  Ruy  Bias,  naturally,  that  had  been  chosen  for  the  open- 
ing of  the  Hugo  season,  and  it  was  at  the  Odeon  that  the  play 
was  to  be  given.  Duquesnel  and  Chilly,  after  many  long  con- 
ferences, had  come  to  the  conclusion  that  the  decision  as  to  who 
was  to  be  the  chief  interpreter  of  the  piece  should  be  left  to  the 
illustrious  dramatist  himself.     Sarah  Bernhardt  saw  Chilly. 

"  I  must  play  Ruy  Bias  !  "  she  said  to  him. 

"  But,  mademoiselle,  there  are  others  whose  claim  is  greater 
than  yours,"  said  the  little  manager.  "  Monsieur  Hugo  cannot 
and  will  not  be  influenced  in  his  choice  !  I  can  tell  you  nothing 
until  I  have  seen  him." 

Sarah  Bernhardt  went  to  Pierre  Bert  on. 

"  You  are  a  friend  of  Victor  Hugo's,"  she  said.  "  Go  to 
him  and  persuade  him  that  I  must  play  Ruy  Bias  !  " 

She  told  me  years  afterwards  :  "I  felt  that  it  was  to  be  the 
supreme  effort  of  my  life.  Something  within  me  told  me  that, 
if  only  I  could  play  this  masterpiece,  both  fame  and  fortune  would 
come  at  once.  I  was  so  sure  of  this  that  I  determined  nothing 
should  stand  in  my  way — and  no  other  artiste." 

Berton  returned  jubilant  from  his  interview  with  Victor  Hugo. 

"  The   Master  says  you  are   toute   indiqude !  "   he   told  the 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  151 

enchanted    actress ;     "he    has    had   you    in    mind   from    the 

Rehearsals  lasted  a  month,  and  Victor  Hugo  was  at  each  one 
of  them,  an  indomitable  figure  of  middle  height,  his  grey  wiry  hair 
tumbling  over  his  ears  and  collar.  Generally  he  sat  in  the  front 
row  of  the  orchestra,  but  on  occasions  a  chair  was  placed  for  him 
in  the  wings,  and  from  there  he  would  jump  up  excitedly  whenever 
he  saw  something  which  disagreed  with  his  theories  as  to  how  the 
play  should  be  produced,  and  would  spend  valuable  minutes  trying 
to  demonstrate  the  right  way  in  which  a  passage  should  be 

One  evening,  after  rehearsals  were  over,  he  had  a  new  idea 
concerning  the  part  of  Ruy  Bias.  Without  stopping  to  think, 
he  dispatched  this  hasty  message  to  Sarah  Bernhardt :  "  Come 
at  once  and  we  will  talk  it  over." 

"  What  !  Does  he  think  I  am  his  valet  ?  "  angrily  exclaimed 
Sarah,  and  wrote  as  much  to  him.  In  an  hour  or  so  she  received 
the  whimsical  reply:  "  No,  mademoiselle,  it  is  I  who  am  your 
valet ! — Victor  Hugo." 

This,  of  course,  appeased  Sarah,  and  when  they  met  the 
next  day  they  were  on  cordial  terms  enough.  Two  days  later 
Victor  Hugo  brought  Sarah  a  huge  bunch  of  roses,  which  he 
presented  to  "  My  Queen  of  Spain  "  (Sarah's  part  in  Ruy  Bias  was 
that  of  the  Queen). 

"  I  know  where  those  roses  came  from  !  "  declared  Sarah, 
accepting  them  suspiciously. 

"  From  my  garden,  mademoiselle  !  "  said  Victor  Hugo,  with 
a  bow. 

"  No,  they  came  from  the  garden  of  Paul  Meurice  !     It  is 

152  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

impossible  that  there  should  be  another  rose-bush  like  that  in  all 
France !  " 

Hugo  was  extremely  disconcerted,  the  more  so  as  his  friend 
Meurice,  who  was  standing  by,  burst  into  a  hurricane  of  laughter. 

"  I  told  you  she  would  know  them  !     I  told  you  !  "  he  roared. 

Hugo  quickly  recovered  his  habitual  wit. 

"  They  are,  mademoiselle,  the  finest  roses  in  all  Europe  !  "  he 
assured  Sarah  solemnly.  "  I  offered  to  buy  them,  and  Paul 
would  not  sell ;  then  I  tried  to  steal  them,  and  he  caught  me. 
So  I  made  him  give  them  to  me,  since  with  these  roses  existing  it 
was  manifestly  impossible  for  me  to  give  you  any  others." 

Sarah  accepted  the  gift,  which  was  one  of  a  series  she  received 
from  the  great  author.    Then  Hugo  said : 

"  You  know,  mademoiselle,  if  we  go  by  the  standards  of 
your  ancestors,  the  Dutch,  we  are  not  really  friends !  " 

"  "Why  not  ?  "  asked  Sarah,  innocently. 

"  Well,  the  Dutch  have  a  saying  that  no  friendship  is 
cemented  till  the  two  friends  in  turn  break  bread  together  under 
their  own  roofs." 

"  Then  come  to  dinner  with  me  to-night — and  you,  too, 
Paul  ?  "  she  said,  turning  to  Meurice. 

"  But  I  cannot  do  that — I  have  an  important  engagement  I  " 
said  Victor  Hugo. 

Meurice,  his  most  intimate  friend,  who  knew  all  his  engage- 
ments, turned  to  him  in  astonishment,  and  Sarah,  seeing  his 
astonishment,  naturaEy  thought  that  Hugo  was  merely  making 
an  excuse  so  that  he  would  not  have  to  dine  with  her.  She  turned 
haughtily  away.  But  Hugo,  running  after  her,  laid  his  hand  on 
her  arm  in  supplication. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  153 

"  Do  not  be  angry,  ma  petite  Reine,"  he  said,  "  my  engagement 
is  with  you  !  " 

"  With  me  !  " 

"  Yes,  I  have  told  the  cook  to  prepare  a  great  dinner  to-night, 
and  you  are  my  guest !  " 

Sarah  regarded  him  suspiciously.  Stories  of  his  libertinage 
had  been  current  for  years. 

"  Whom  else  have  you  invited  ?  "  she  demanded. 

"  Oh,"  answered  Hugo,  vaguely  waving  his  hand,  "  er — 
lots  of  people^ — Duquesnel,  Meurice  here,  and' — and  others." 

Sarah  caught  the  amazed  expression  on  Meurice 's  face  and, 
excusing  herself,  sought  out  Duquesnel. 

"  Has  Victor  Hugo  invited  you  to  a  grand  dinner  at  his 
house  to-night  ?  "  she  asked. 

"  No— why  ?  " 

Sarah  did  not  answer,  but  returned  to  Hugo  and  held  out 
her  hand,  smiling. 

"  Very  well,  then,  it  is  understood — I  shall  come  at  eight 

Hugo  was  overjoyed  and  overwhelmed  her  with  thanks.  He 
was  completely  taken  aback,  however,  when  Sarah  Bernhardt 
arrived  at  the  time  mentioned- — with  four  friends  ! 

The  table  had  been  laid  for  two,  as  Sarah  had  expected.  But 
Hugo  treated  the  matter  as  a  great  joke,  entertained  them 
dehghtfuUy  until  midnight  with  stories  of  his  travels,  and  went 
about  for  days  afterwards  telling  his  friends  what  a  "  smart 
woman  that  Bernhardt  was  !  " 

There  was  never  anything  but  ordinary  friendship,  and  much 
mutual  admiration,  between  Sarah  Bernhardt  and  Victor  Hugo, 

154  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

despite  all  the  rumours  that  were  current  then  and  have  been 
bruited  around  since.  The  principal  reason  for  this  was,  of  course, 
that  Sarah  was  a  young  woman,  while  Hugo  was  nearing  the 
end  of  his  long  and  active  career. 

"  Victor  Hugo  ?  "  she  answered  me  once.  "  A  wonderful 
vieillard  (old  man)." 

Ruy  Bias  was  produced  at  the  Od^on  on  January  26,  1872, 
before  the  most  brilliant  audience  the  theatre  had  ever  seen. 
Every  seat  had  been  taken  days  in  advance,  and  hundreds 
crowded  into  the  space  behind  the  back  rows  and  stood  up 
throughout  the  entire  performance. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  triumphed.  She  often  told  me  that  never 
again  in  her  long  career  did  she  act  so  well  as  she  did  that  night. 
And  Paris  agreed  with  her.     She  was  a  literal  sensation. 

When  the  play  was  over,  she  was  forced  to  respond  to  more 
than  twenty  curtain-calls.  She  tried  to  make  a  little  speech  of 
thanks,  but  failed,  broke  down  and  ran  off  the  stage  sobbing,  to 
the  huge  delight  and  thunderous  applause  of  the  audience. 

Blinded  by  tears,  she  was  making  her  way  to  her  dressing- 
room  when  she  felt  two  arms  placed  about  her  from  behind  and 
a  gentle  voice  whisper  in  her  ear  : 

"  What,  my  queen  !     Are  you  going  without  a  word  to  me  ?  " 

The  grave  reproach  made  her  lift  her  head  and  turn.  It  was 
Victor  Hugo.     His  eyes,  too,  were  wet. 

"  Sarah,"  he  said  gravely,  "  I  have  but  one  word  to  say  to 
you,  and  I  say  it  with  all  niy  soul :   merci !  " 

Georges  Clairin,  who  was  present,  sketched  the  two  as  they 
stood  there  in  each  other's  arms,  mingling  their  tears  of  happiness. 

The  sketch  was  published  some  days  later,  under  the  title  of 


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Letter  of  Congratulation  from  V'ictorien  Sardou. 

P-  154- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  155 

"  The  Goddess  and  the  Genius."  From  that  day  dated  the 
"  divinity  "  of  Sarah  Bernhardt.  Her  art  had  become  supreme, 
a  thing  to  amaze  and  astound  the  world. 

Sarah  Bernhardt's  collaboration  with  Victor  Hugo  became 
frequent  from  that  time  forward. 

In  1877  Hugo  saw  her  in  Hernani  and  wrote  to  her  : 

"  Madame, 

"  You  have  been  great  and  charming ;  you  have 
touched  my  heart— mine,  the  old  soldier's — and,  at  a  certain 
moment,  while  the  enchanted  and  overwhelmed  public  applauded 
you,  I  wept.  This  tear,  which  you  caused  to  fall,  is  yours,  and 
I  throw  myself  at  your  feet  ! 

"  Victor  Hugo." 

Accompanying  the  note  was  the  "  tear  " — a  magnificent, 
pear-shaped  diamond,  suspended  from  a  gold  bracelet. 

Years  later,  when  Sarah  was  visiting  Alfred  Sassoon  in  London, 
she  lost  the  bracelet,  and  Sassoon,  tremendously  worried,  begged 
to  be  permitted  to  replace  it. 

Sarah  sadly  shook  her  head. 

"  Nothing,"  she  said,  "  can  ever  replace  for  me  the  tear  of 
Victor  Hugo  !  " 

Every  critic  in  Paris,  with  the  sole  exception  of  Francisque 
Sarcey  the  irrepressible,  praised  with  lavish  phrases  her  per- 
formance as  the  Queen  in  Ruy  Bias.     But  Sarcey  was  brutal. 

"  She  is  a  scarecrow  with  a  voice,"  he  wrote.  "  Certainly, 
the  public  is  entitled  to  be  informed  of  the  reasons  MM.  Duquesnel, 

156  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Chilly  and  Hugo  had  for  giving  her  the  role  in  which  she  appears. 
She  is  not  yet  mature,  does  not  move  naturally,  and  seems  to 
rely  exclusively  on  her  talent  for  recital." 

Sarah  went  into  violent  hysterics  when  she  read  the  article. 
She  could  not  imagine  why  Sarcey  was  so  venomous.  Pierre 
Berton  knew  Sarcey  intimately,  of  course,  and  tried  to  intercede 
for  her.     He  met  a  rebuff. 

"  Your  protegee  has  blinded  you  with  her  blue  eyes,"  Sarcey 
said.  "  She  is  not  a  great  success,  and  she  never  will  be 
one  !  " 

The  critic  continued  his  devastating  articles,  seeming  to  find 
pleasure  in  tearing  down  the  reputation  of  the  young  actress. 
He  had  an  undisputedly  great  following,  and  the  management  of 
the  Odeon  itself  commenced  to  look  askance  at  this  unwelcome 

Sarah  was  particularly  concerned  over  the  effect  Sarcey's 
diatribes  would  have  with  the  management  of  the  Comedie 
Fran^aise,  for  (secretly)  she  longed  to  be  taken  back  into  the 
fold  of  the  theatre  which  then,  as  now,  was  the  principal  play- 
house of  France. 

Sarcey's  articles  culminated  in  a  vitriolic  attack  on  Sarah's 
interpretation  of  another  role  (I  think  it  was  that  of  Mademoiselle 
Aisee).  Sarah  read  the  attack  during  an  entr'acte  on  the  third 
night,  and  became  so  ill  with  anger  that  a  doctor  had  to  be  sent 
for.  She  finished  her  role  that  night,  but  her  acting  was  so  bad 
that  even  critics  favourable  to  her  commented  upon  it. 

Girardin,  the  friend  of  Victor  Hugo  and  the  most  famous 
journalist  of  his  time,  came  to  her  on  the  following  day,  as  she 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  157 

lay  in  bed  exhausted  from  a  sleepless  night,  and  said  to  her 
without  preamble  : 

"  Of  course,  you  realise  why  Sarcey  is  attacking  you  ?  " 

Sarah  looked  at  him  in  red-eyed  surprise. 

"  No— why  should  I  know  ?  "  she  replied.  "  I  have  never 
met  him  !  " 

"  Think  again  !  "  urged  Girardin.  "  He  says  you  and  he  are 
old  acquaintances  !  " 

Sarah  thought,  and  after  a  moment  she  replied  :  "  He  is 
mistaken  ;    I  have  never  met  him." 

"  He  tells  his  friends  that  he  met  you  once  at  the  home  of 

Madame  de  S ,"   responded  Girardin,  "  and  that  you  were 

rude  to  him  there " 

Sarah  sat  up  in  bed  with  a  bound.  "  That— that  creature— 
that  was  Sarcey  ?  "  she  cried.  "  Why— he  was  ignoble  !  He 
was  criticising  Camille  Blanchet,  one  of  my  dearest  friends, 
saying  that  he  was  a  cow  on  the  stage,  and  I — • —  " 

"  What  did  you  say  ?  "  prompted  Girardin. 

"  I— I  forget  ;  but  I  think  I  said  that  I  would  rather  be  a 
cow  on  the  stage  than  a  pig  in  a  drawing-room  !  .  .  .  But— I 
had  no  idea  that  he  was  Sarcey  !  " 

"  Well,"  said  Girardin  conclusively,  "  that  was  he  !  " 

Sarah  was  pale  with  dismay.     "  What  shall  I  do  ?"  she  asked. 

"  There  are  only  two  things  you  can  do,"  answered  Girardin. 
"  Either  you  can  ignore  him,  and  let  him  continue  his  attacks, 
in  which  case  you  can  say  good-bye  to  your  chances  of  re-entering 
the  Comedie— at  least  for  the  present  ;  or  you  can— make  friends 
with  the  man." 

"  But  how — make  friends  ?  " 

158  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  I  have  heard  that  he  is  susceptible  to  a  pretty  woman !  " 
said  Girardin,  drily,  "  and  if  you  meet  him,  and  explain  that  you 

did  not  know  that  it  was  he,  that  day  at  Madame  de  S 's, 

perhaps " 

Sarah  understood. 

On  the  following  Sunday  Pierre  Berton  (it  was  he  who  told  me 
the  story,  many  years  later)  saw  Sarcey  sitting  in  a  stage-box, 
dressed  in  a  dandified  full-dress  and  wearing  all  his  honours.  His 
expression  was  so  triumphant,  as  Sarah  came  on  the  stage,  that 
Berton  "  smelt  a  rat  "  and  decided  to  watch  carefully. 

For  some  months  Sarah's  attitude  to  him  had  been  one  of 
increasing  coldness — coldness  that  was  the  more  inexplicable, 
since  he  had  been  her  friend  and  protector  from  the  time  she 
entered  the  theatre.  He  believed  now  that  he  held  the  key  to 
the  mystery. 

Sure  enough,  when  the  curtain  fell  for  the  evening,  Sarah 
accosted  Pierre  in  the  wings,  and  said  to  him  : 

"  Ecoutes  !  I  don't  feel  well  to-night ;  I  will  go  home  alone 
with  Blanche."     Blanche  was  her  maid. 

His  protests  only  made  her  refusal  to  allow  him  to  escort  her 
the  more  emphatic  and  irritable. 

"  I  tell  you  I  am  ill !  I  must  go  straight  home  to  bed  !  " 
she  asserted. 

Hurrying  through  his  dressing,  Pierre  ran  to  the  stage  entrance, 
where  he  hid  in  the  door-keeper's  box  and  watched.  He  had 
waited  some  time  when  word  was  brought  to  him  that  Sarah  had 
left — by  the  front  door.  Hurrying  round  to  the  front,  Pierre 
was  just  in  time  to  see  her  greet  Sarcey,  who  was  waiting  there, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  159 

with  an  affectionate  kiss,  and  then  mount  into  the  same  fiacre 
with  him. 

They  drove  away  together,  and  from  that  day  on  Sarcey's 
pen  ceased  to  be  dipped  in  vitriol  and  became  impregnated  with 
sugar,  in  so  far  as  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  concerned.  Things 
continued  thus  until  the  inevitable  break  came,  when  Sarcey 
resumed  his  role  of  merciless  critic.  But  by  that  time  Sarah  did 
not  care.  She  was  back  at  the  Comedie  Frangaise,  and  not  aU 
the  Sarceys  in  the  world  could  have  detracted  from  her  glory 
nor  torn  the  halo  from  her  brow. 

When  Sarah  quarrelled  with  Sarcey,  she  was  gi-eater  than  he. 

Afterwards  she  attempted  from  time  to  time  to  renew  her 
intimacy  with  Pierre  Berton,  but  Berton,  though  remaining 
her  friend  and  admirer,  scrupulously  kept  on  that  footing  and 
declined  to  return  to  his  old  status  of  doting  lover  and  slave. 

It  was  his  last  love  affair  until,  the  mother  of  his  five  children 
dying,  he  met  and  married  me. 

i6o  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


Sarah  communicated  to  Francisque  Sarcey  her  desire  to  return 
to  the  Comedie  Fran9aise.  Not  that  she  was  unhappy  at  the 
Od^on  !  On  the  contrary,  she  had  been  gloriously  happy  there 
and  owed  everything  to  the  staff  of  that  theatre.  It  was  simply 
that  in  those  days,  unless  one  had  become  the  great  star  of  the 
Comedie  Frangaise,  one  was  not  the  great  star  of  France.  It  was 
the  criterion  by  which  a  dramatic  career  succeeded  or  failed — 
a  sort  of  Royal  Academy  of  the  stage.  And  Sarah's  engagement 
at  the  Comedie  as  a  star  would  be  a  double  triumph,  since  it  would 
mean  that  those  who  disliked  her  and  were  embittered  against 
her  by  personal  quarrels  had  been  forced  to  engage  her  because  her 
genius  would  not  let  them  do  otherwise. 

It  was  not  an  unheard-of  thing  for  an  actress  to  be  taken  from 
another  theatre  to  the  Comedie  and  starred  ;  but  it  was  rare. 
Generally,  the  stars  of  the  Comedie  were  societaireS' — actresses  who 
had  entered  the  institution  as  apprentices,  and  had  remained 
there  throughout  their  careers.  It  is  so  even  now.  For  an 
actress  to  be  invited  from  another  theatre  meant  a  signal  honour 
and  a  public  acknowledgment  that  she  was  pre-eminent  in  her 


It  is  likely  that  Sarcey  did  not  have  to  use  much  persuasion 
with  the  directors  of  the  Comedie.     His  influence  was  unlimited 

Sarah  a  constant    victim    to    writ-servers. 
Exhibited  at  the  Exposition  des  Incoherents, 


Sarah  and  Sarcey. 
Bv  Caran  d'Ache,  1880. 

The  ^Manifold  Vocations  of  Sarah. 

By  Moloch,  in  La  Silhouette, 


Sarah     and    Damala   in    Les 

Meres  Ennemies,  by  Grimm, 


Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Caricature. 

p.  160, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  i6i 

there,  and  the  mere  fact  that  the  great  Sarcey  had  changed 
his  opinion  of  Sarah' — even  though  a  majority  of  Paris  suspected 
the  cause — was  enough  to  stamp  her  with  the  precious  hall-mark 
of  genius. 

But  Sarah  had  enemies  enough  in  the  House  of  Moli^re. 
Maubant  the  tragedian,  for  one,  had  sworn  that  she  should  enter 
the  theatre  only  over  his  dead  body  !  Madame  Nathalie  was 
still  there,  together  with  her  group  of  powerful  friends.  She 
had  not  forgotten  the  time  that  Sarah  had  slapped  her  face, 
nor  would  she  ever  forget  it.  The  mere  rumour  that  Sarah  was 
to  be  invited  back  to  the  Com^die  would  send  this  group  into 
transports  of  rage. 

After  Le  Passant,  Sarah's  salary  at  the  Odeon  had  been  in- 
creased to  four  hundred  francs  a  month,  and  following  her  triumph 
in  Ruy  Bias  she  was  given  a  further  increase  of  two  hundred 
francs,  making  six  hundred  in  all.  This  salary,  about  six  pounds 
a  week,  was  considered  excellent  in  those  dayS' — and  it  was  not 
bad,  even  considering  the  somewhat  depreciated  buying-power 
of  money  in  Paris  due  to  the  war  and  the  Commune. 

But  it  was  not  nearly  sufficient  for  Sarah,  who  lived  in  lavish 
style  in  her  new  apartment  in  the  Boulevard  Malesherbes.  There 
she  had  a  suite  of  nine  large  rooms,  all  of  them  exquisitely  fur- 
nished, and  she  maintained  a  staff  of  five  servants.  She  had  two 
coaches^ — one  for  ordinary  driving  to  and  from  the  theatre,  and 
the  other  for  special  occasions,  such  as  Sunday  mornings  in 
the  Champs  Elys^es  and  the  Bois,  when  all  fashionable  Paris 
turned  out  in  their  smartest  equipages  to  stare  and  be  stared 

She  was  constantly  buying  things  and  as  constantly  signing 


1 62  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

I.O.U.'s  and  traites  (a  species  of  acknowledgment  of  debt  which 
authorises  its  collection  by  a  bank) .  She  never  knew  to  a  certainty 
how  much  money  she  owed,  and  was  constantly  surrounded  by 
a  horde  of  creditors  eager  to  collect. 

Among  these  creditors  was  a  Jew,  one  Fran9ois  Cohen,  a 
dealer  in  furniture  and  one  of  the  most  astute  business  men  in 
Paris.  He  was  not  only  a  good  business  man  ;  he  was  an  extra- 
ordinary judge  of  dramatic  talent,  and  in  fact  edited  a  column 
of  dramatic  comment  for  Le  Monde  et  La  Ville,  a  monthly 
sheet  distinguished  for  its  accurate  information.  He  did  this, 
of  course,  merely  as  a  recreation. 

Sarah's  attention  was  first  attracted  to  him  by  the  number 
of  Le  Monde  et  La  Ville  issued  after  her  first  performance  in 
Francois  Coppee's  Le  Passant — the  charity  performance,  I  mean, 
before  the  play  became  a  definite  part  of  the  Odeon  repertoire. 
In  his  column  Cohen  had  written  : 

"  It  is  worth  while  to  report  the  discovery,  on  Sunday  night,  of 
a  new  celestial  body  in  the  firmament  of  drama.  We  have  found 
a  poet,  you  will  say  ;  yes,  but  that  is  the  least  of  it.  Coppee 
is  a  master^ — a  master  in  swaddling  clothes — but  even  he,  with  his 
intricate  verse,  of  which  one  understands  only  the  beauty  without 
comprehending  the  sense,  would  have  been  lost  but  for  the  out- 
standing magnificence  of  the  most  promising  young  actress  on 
the  stage  in  Paris.     I  am  speaking  of  MUe.  Bernhardt. 

"  Who  is  she  ?  I  have  asked,  and  nobody  seems  to  know. 
There  are  stories  of  royal  favour,  of  noble  blood,  of  powerful 
protection  ;  let  us  trust  that  they  are  untrue,  for  Mile.  Bernhardt 
must  have  the  incentive  to  work  which  only  the  necessity  to  live 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  163 

can  give  her.  But  that  she  is  something  new  in  the  heavens  is, 
as  I  have  said,  undoubted. 

"  The  question  only  remains  :  Will  she  be  a  comet,  like  so 
many  others,  flashing  for  but  a  brief  instant  in  our  bewildered 
and  astonished  consciousness,  or  will  she  develop  into  a  new 
astronomical  marvel,  a  brilHant  seventh  of  the  Odeon  Constella- 
tion, destined  to  shine  with  increasing  brilliance,  to  dazzle  us 
with  her  art  and  to  warm  us  with  her  voice,  until  she  becomes 
a  fixed  sun  in  the  celestial  firmament  of  France  ? 

"  No  one  who  saw  her  performance  last  night  can  doubt  that 
the  genius  is  there  ;  it  remains  but  to  know  whether  she  also 
possesses  the  great  gift  of  ambition  and  the  necessary  deter- 
mination to  work  which  alone  can  make  her  success  a  per- 
manent thing.  It  is,  perhaps,  fortunate  that  she  is  not  too 
beautiful.  ..." 

It  was  the  most  keenly  analytical  criticism  that  had  appeared 
— I  have  quoted  only  a  small  part  of  the  article — and,  despite 
Sarah's  distaste  for  the  last  sentence,  she  realised  that  the  author 
of  the  commentary  knew  what  he  was  talking  about.  This  was 
shown  by  his  skilful  delineation  of  the  play.  She  carried  the 
paper  to  Berton  and  asked  : 

"  Who  is  '  F.  C  who  signs  this  article  ?  " 

"  I  don't  know,"  said  Berton,  "  and  nobody  else  does  either. 
It  seems  to  be  a  sort  of  secret.     But  he  is  clever." 

Sarah  sent  a  note  to  the  paper  asking  the  editor  to  com- 
municate with  "  F.  C."  and  ask  him  if  he  would  call  upon  Sarah 
Bernhardt,  who  wished  to  thank  him.  She  named  a  day  and 
a  time. 

164  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

At  the  appointed  hour  a  call-boy  came  to  her  dressing-room 
with  a  card,  on  which  was  printed  :    "  Frangois  Cohen." 

Ah  !  So  this  was  "  F,  C."  Sarah's  eyes  brightened  in  anticipa- 
tion.    She  knew  of  a  question  that  she  meant  to  ask  him. 

The  door  opened  and  a  little,  round-shouldered  man,  with  a 
hooked  nose  and  beady,  sparkling  eyes  came  in.  He  was  dressed 
in  a  suit  of  clothes  two  sizes  too  big  for  him  ;  one  of  his  shoes  was 
unlaced  and  he  kept  his  hat  on. 

Without  preamble  he  advanced  into  the  room  with  a  short, 
mincing  gait,  trotted  over  to  where  Sarah  sat  regarding  him  with 
astonishment  and  suspicion,  seized  her  hand,  which  he  pecked 
at  with  his  lips,  and  then  thrust  a  large  book  on  the  table  in  front 
of  her  and  began  to  turn  over  the  pages. 

"  I  understand  that  you  are  very  busy,  mademoiselle," 
he  said,  with  a  strong  accent,  "  and  so  I  have  brought  the  catalogue 
that  is  likely  to  interest  you,  and  I  think  we  can  agree  very  quickly. 
The  prices  are  marked,  but  perhaps " 

Finally  Sarah  Bernhardt  found  her  voice. 

"  Who,"  she  demanded,  struggling  with  mingled  surprise 
and  indignation,  "  are  you  ?  " 

The  little  Jew  looked  up,  astonished. 

"  Why,"  he  answered,  "  I  am  Fran9ois  Cohen  !  Did  not  they 
give  you  my  card  ?     I  was  told  to  come  up^ " 

"  B — but,  I  thought  that  you  had  come  from  a  paper^ — ■ —  " 

Cohen's  little  eyes  sparkled.  "  I  am  Fran9ois  Cohen,  and  I 
sell  very  fine  furniture,"  he  said. 

"  I  do  not  want  to  buy  furniture  !  "  exclaimed  Sarah  testily. 
"  I  wanted  to  see  a  man  who  signs  himself  '  F.  C  in  L^  Monde  et 
La  Ville,  and  I  thought,  when  I  saw  your  card " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  165 

"  You  are  sure  you  do  not  want  to  buy  any  furniture  ?  " 

"  Of  course  I  am  sure  !  " 

"  Then,  mademoiselle,  we  may  talk  of  the  other  matter. 
I— I  am  also  '  F.  C  " 

Sarah  regarded  him  incredulously. 

"  You  are  '  F.  C  who  writes  the  theatrical  article  in  Le 
Monde  et  La  Ville  P  "  she  demanded,  with  frank  disbelief.  "  I  don't 
believe  it  !  You  are  trying  to  lie  to  me,  so  that  I  will  buy 
your  furniture." 

"  I  will  prove  it  to  you,  if  you  like." 

"  How  ?  " 

"  Well,  you  know  what  I  said  in  my  article- — that  you  would 
one  day  be  a  great  star  if  only  you  worked  hard  and  had 
ambition  ?  " 

"  Yes." 

"  Have  you  ambition  ?  "  he  asked  her. 

"  Yes,"  returned  the  actress,  wonderingly.  "  I  have — 

"  Will  you  give  me  your  promise  to  study  and  work  hard  ?  " 
the  extraordinary  little  man  then  asked  her. 

"  I  mean  to  do  that — yes  !  "  replied  Sarah. 

"  Then  I  will  prove  my  faith  in  you  by  making  this  agreement  : 
If  you  will  buy  from  me  the  furniture  that  you  need  in  furnishing 
your  new  flat  "  (her  old  one  had  been  burned  out  a  few  nights 
before),  "  I  will  give  you  credit  for  six  years  !  " 

Sarah  could  not  believe  her  ears. 

"  Credit  for  six  years  !  "  she  cried.  "  But  that  is  a  long 
time  !  " 

"  Six  years  !  "  repeated  the  Jew  impassively. 

i66  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  But  why  six  ?     Why  not  ten^ — or  two  ?  " 

"  Because  I  believe  that  you  will  be  famous  within  six  years 
and  will  be  well  able  to  pay  me,"  he  answered. 

The  deal  was  struck.  Six  years  later  Sarah  Bernhardt's  name 
was  the  most  celebrated  in  all  Paris,  and  Cohen  came  to  collect 
his  bill- — eleven  thousand  francs,  including  interest.  It  took 
all  Sarah's  spare  cash,  and  all  she  could  borrow  on  her  salary, 
but  she  paid  him.  It  was  the  only  debt  I  ever  knew  her  to  be 
scrupulous  about. 

Sarah  was  in  bed  one  morning  when  Madame  Guerard,  who 
had  become  a  sort  of  secretary  to  her,  entered  the  bedroom  with 
a  letter  in  her  hand  and  a  mysterious  look  on  her  face.  Closing 
the  door  behind  her,  she  went  silently  to  the  bed,  and  stood  looking 
at  Sarah. 

Then  she  handed  her  the  letter.  It  was  in  a  large,  square 
envelope,  and  on  the  back  of  it  was  printed  "  Comedie 

Sarah  uttered  a  cry  of  exultation.  It  was  her  summons  ! 
She  felt  morally  certain  of  it  before  the  envelope  was  opened. 

"  Open  it,  Madame  Guerard  !  "  she  cried,  "  and  tell  me  what 
it  says  !  " 

The  old  lady  carefully  broke  the  seal,  withdrew  the  letter, 
adjusted  her  spectacles  and  commenced  to  read  : 

"  Monsieur  Perrin,  administrator  of  the  Comedie  Fran9aise, 
requests  from  Mile.  Sarah  Bernhardt  the  honour  of  an  appoint- 
ment as  soon  as  possible." 

Sarah  jumped  out  of  bed,  seized  the  letter,  and  did  a  dance  of 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  167 

triumph  on  the  floor.     "  Tell  him"  she  said  breathlessly,  "  that 
I  will  go  to  see  him  to-day,  at  once' — —  " 

"  It  is  Monday,  and  the  offices  are  closed,"  reminded  Madame 

"  That  is  so.  I  had  forgotten.  Well,  tell  him  I  will  go  to  see 
him  to-morrow  afternoon." 

The  next  day  she  saw  Perrin,  who  took  her  hands  in  his  and 
said  to  her  earnestly  :  "  My  child,  I  know  that  you  are  very  much 
attached  to  the  Odeon,  but  your  future  belongs  to  France — and 
this  is  the  National  Theatre  of  France." 

"  When  Perrin  said  that,"  Sarah  related  to  me  long  afterwards, 
"  I  felt  that  my  great  moment  had  come.  I  was  vindicated  ! 
My  art  had  triumphed  !  I  had  compelled  the  Comedie  Frangaise, 
my  enemies,  to  admit  that  I  was  the  greatest  artiste  in 
Paris  !  " 

She  dictated  harsh  terms  to  Perrin,  who  promised  to  consider 
them.  In  two  days  came  his  reply  :  the  administration  had  met 
and  considered  her  case,  and  had  instructed  him  to  say  that  they 
would  pay  her  an  annual  traitement  of  12,000  francs. 

With  this  letter  in  her  hand  she  sought  Duquesnel.  That 
admirable  man  had  long  suspected  that  Sarah  was  eager  to 
return  to  the  Comedie. 

But  he  only  looked  at  her  reproachfully  and  said  :  "  Our  little 
Sarah  wishes  to  leave  us  ?  After  all  we  have  done  for  her  ? 
She  does  not  love  us  any  more  !  " 

Sarah  burst  into  a  flood  of  tears,  and  flung  herself  into  the 
director's  arms. 

"  It  is  not  true  !  I  do  not  want  to  leave  you !  I  love  you 
all !     I  would  like  to  stay.     But  you  see " 

i68  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

She  could  not  explain  that  she  felt  her  glory  incomplete  as 
long  as  she  remained  only  the  star  of  the  Odeon. 

"  Well  ?  "  prompted  Duquesnel.  "  Let  me  say  it  for  you — 
it  is  the  money  !  " 

Sarah  gave  a  sigh  of  relief.  She  had  been  afraid  he  would 
divine  her  real  reason.  And,  anyway,  the  money  played  no  small 
part  in  her  determination  to  return  to  the  Comedie. 

"  Yes,"  she  admitted,  "  of  course,  it  is  the  money.  Perrin 
offers  me  twelve  thousand  francs  a  year.  Give  me  fifteen  thousand 
and  I  will  remain  here." 

The  largest  salary  hitherto  paid  by  the  Odeon  to  an  artist 
was  the  10,000  francs  a  year  which  had  been  earned  by  Mounet- 
Sulley  before  he,  too,  was  taken  by  the  Comedie  Fran9aise. 
Sarah  and  Duquesnel  both  knew  that  it  was  impossible  that  she 
should  be  given  fifteen. 

"  I  will  talk  to  Chilly,"  said  he  at  last,  "  but  I  do  not  think  he 
will  agree." 

The  next  day  Chilly  sent  for  her.  His  manner  was  abrupt, 
rude.  But  Sarah  understood  the  man  by  this  time.  She  knew 
that  his  brusque  manner  was  only  his  way  of  concealing 

"  So,"  he  said,  "  you  want  to  leave  us — idiot !  " 

"  I  do  not  want  to  leave,"  answered  Sarah,  "  but  I  am  offered 
more  money  !  " 

"  Your  place  is  here  !  There  is  not  a  theatre  in  Paris  which 
can  offer  you  more  than  the  Odeon,  except  the  Comedie,  and 
of  course  you  will  never' — ■ —  " 

Sarah  tendered  him   the   envelope   she  had  received  from 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  169 

Perrin,  and  Chilly  started  as  he  saw  the  inscription  on  the 

"  Ah  !  "  he  exclaimed. 

Sarah  waited. 

"  What  do  they  offer  ?  " 

"  Twelve  thousand." 

"  I  will  give  you  twelve — —  " 

"  No,  you  must  give  me  fifteen." 

Chilly  rose  from  his  chair,  red  with  anger.  "  So,  mademois- 
elle, that  is  the  way  you  treat  your  friends  !  Fifteen  thousand 
francs  !  It  is  ridiculous^ — absurd.  ...  Do  you  then  take  me  for 
an  imbecile  ?  " 

His  attitude  enraged  Sarah. 

"  Yes,"  she  snapped,  "  I  take  you  for  just  that — an 
imbecile  !  " 

And  she  left  the  room,  banging  the  door,  leaving  Chilly  wearily 
staring  after  her. 

Half  an  hour  later  she  was  back  in  his  office.  Advancing,  she 
held  out  her  arms  to  Chilly  and  embraced  him, 

"  So,"  he  exclaimed  joyfully.     "  You  will  stay  ?  " 

"  No,"  returned  Sarah.  "  I  am  going  !  But  I  want  tO' — to 
thank  you.  ..."     And  she  burst  into  tears  again. 

Sarah  signed  her  contract  with  the  Comedie  Frangaise  the 
same  day.  A  week  later  Victor  Hugo  gave  a  banquet  to  celebrate 
the  looth  performance  of  Ruy  Bias. 

It  was  in  many  ways  a  notable  dinner.  Not  only  did  it 
commemorate  the  triumph  of  his  greatest  play,  but  it  was  Sarah's 
farewell  to  the  company  at  the  Odeon,  her  adieu  to  the  stage  on 
which  she  had  achieved  renown. 

170  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

And  it  was  the  last  supper  of  Chilly,  the  director  who  had 
helped  to  mould  her  fame.  He  died  of  heart  failure  at  the  table, 
at  the  very  moment  when  he  was  about  to  reply  to  the  toast  of 
his  health. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  171 


The  death  of  Chilly  momentarily  saddened  Sarah  Bernhardt, 
but  did  not  check  her  rapid  advance  to  fame.  That  event  indeed 
once  again  brought  her  abruptly  face  to  face  with  the  elemental 
facts  of  life  ;  and,  like  other  experiences  of  the  same  nature, 
had  a  profound  effect  on  her  character,  while  it  served  as 
welding  material  for  the  art  she  displayed  in  her  theatrical 

Her  nature  was  that  of  the  true  artist' — highly  sensitive  ;  once 
an  impression  was  made  on  her  it  remained  for  ever  as  a  com- 
ponent part  of  the  edifice  of  her  talent.  Just  as  a  portrait  painter, 
away  from  his  oils,  will  observe  and  remember  in  its  minutest 
detail  some  tantalising  cast  of  expression  in  the  face  of  his  model 
and  will  later  reproduce  it  on  canvas,  so  Sarah's  brain  was 
constantly  receiving  impressions  which  she  later  translated  into 
life,  through  the  medium  of  the  characters  she  portrayed. 

Sarah  often  told  me  of  the  fatal  dinner  during  the  course  of 
which  the  little  director  Chilly  died. 

"  I  shall  never  forget  a  detail  of  that  night,  as  long  as  I  live," 
she  said.  "  It  was  so  incredibly  a  masterpiece  of  the  great 
dramatist,  Fate."  (She  frequently  spoke  in  a  figurative  sense.) 
"  It  all  happened  as  though  written,  rehearsed  and  stage-managed 
for  weeks,  with  every  person  there  an  actor  word-perfect. 

"  We  were  received  at  the  entrance  to  the  restaurant  by  Victor 
Hugo  himself.     It  was  summer  and  extremely  hot.     Duquesnel, 

172  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Chilly,  Berton  and  I  arrived  all  together  in  my  carriage.  Through- 
out the  journey  from  my  flat,  Berton  and  Chilly  had  been  heaping 
reproaches  on  me  for  my  decision  to  leave  the  Odeon. 

"  Chilly  was  hurt  and  puzzled.  He  could  not  understand 
why  a  difference  of  only  three  thousand  francs  a  year  should  make 
me  leave  the  theatre  which  had  been  the  birthplace  of  my 
celebrity.  Berton  was  loudly  querulous  ;  he  insisted  on  reminding 
me  that  it  was  he  who  had  procured  me  my  first  engagement  at  the 
Odeon,  and  once  came  right  out  with  the  statement  that  it  was 
Sarcey  who  was  at  the  back  of  my  desire  to  leave  the  theatre. 

"  This  latter  statement,  which  was  quite  untrue  and  which 
Berton  must  have  known  to  have  been  untrue,  angered  me  to 
such  an  extent  that  I  stopped  the  carriage. 

"  '  Monsieur,'  I  said  to  Berton,  '  either  you  will  retract  what  you 
have  just  said,  or  you  will  get  out  of  this  carriage  !  ' 

"  '  Well,  then,  why  are  you  leaving  us  ?  '  demanded  Berton 
sulkily.     The  man  was  incorrigible.     I  laughed  at  him. 

"  '  If  you  insist  upon  knowing  why  I  am  leaving  the  Od^on, 
Pierre,'  I  answered  him,  '  it  is  because  I  can  no  longer  remain  at 
the  same  theatre  with  you  !  ' 

"  Chilly  looked  at  me  strangely,  but  said  nothing.  I  know 
he  was  aware^ — the  whole  theatre  was  in  possession  of  the  main 
facts  by  this  time— that  I  had  broken  with  Berton,  and  I  think 
he  may  have  imagined  there  was  some  truth  in  the  explanation 
I  had  jestingly  given.  At  any  rate,  he  ceased  his  complaints 
and  said  afterwards  not  a  single  word  of  protest  at  my  leaving. 

"  I  remember  that,  during  the  drive  to  the  restaurant,  Chilly 
frequently  complained  of  the  heat.  He  had  been  working  hard 
all  day,  and  we  had,  in  fact,  called  at  the  theatre,  and  brought  him 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  173 

directly  from  it  in  his  working-clothes.  He  was  the  most  inde- 
fatigable worker  I  have  ever  met. 

"  '  Ah,'  said  Victor  Hugo,  on  perceiving  me,  '  here  is  Her 
Majesty  the  Queen  !  '  He  seized  my  hand,  kissed  it  twice  and 
then,  drawing  me  to  him,  kissed  me  on  both  cheeks.  It  was  a 
characteristic  salutation. 

"  '  I  see  that  she  is  no  longer  the  Queen,  but  has  become  again 
the  artiste  of  Victor  Hugo  !  '  "  exclaimed  Duquesnel. 

"  Hugo  shook  his  head  violently.  '  No,'  he  cried,  '  she  is 
more  than  an  artiste,  more  than  a  Queen^ — she  is  a  woman  !  ' 

"  We  dined  at  a  long  table — more  than  sixty  persons,  includ- 
ing practically  the  whole  Ruy  Bias  company.  My  chair  had  been 
placed  at  one  end,  but  I  had  no  sooner  sat  down  than  Hugo 
began  looking  round  and  running  his  hand  through  his  hair  in 
the  nervous  fashion  I  remember  so  well.  "Wben  he  saw  me,  he 
cried  out  :  '  Ah,  no  !  My  dinner  will  be  spoiled  !  '  Then  he 
added,  speaking  to  Essler  who  was  seated  immediately  opposite 
him  :  *  Jane,  you  are  older  than  Sarah  ;  take  the  seat  of  honour 
at  the  end,  and  tell  her  Majesty  to  come  here  ! ' 

"  Jane  did  as  he  requested,  but  with  excusably  bad  grace. 
Before  I  had  come  to  the  Odeon,  she  had  been  its  bright,  particular 

"  The  order  was  given  to  open  all  the  doors  and  windows,  and 
everyone  was  provided  with  fans,  but  the  heat  was  stifling.  No- 
body could  eat  anything.  Duquesnel  sat  next  to  me  on  one 
side,  and  Theophile  Gautier,  the  poet,  on  the  other.  Immediately 
opposite  to  me  was  Victor  Hugo.  On  his  right  was  Chilly,  and 
on  his  left  Madame  Lambquin,  who  played  the  part  of  the 
Camerera  Major,  and  who  was  the  doyenne  of  the  Odeon. 

174  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  I  remember  that  I  did  not  touch  the  first  course  at  all^it 
was  a  species  of  hors-d' ceuvres  made  from  beetroot,  a  vegetable 
which  I  then  detested.  Paul  de  St.  Victor,  who  sat  next  to 
Madame  Lambquin,  apparently  adored  the  vegetable  and  ate  so 
much  that  the  juice  ran  down  his  cheeks.  For  a  poet,  he  was  the 
fattest  and  most  repulsive  being  I  have  ever  known.  I  hated 
him,  and  he  knew  it. 

"  I  managed  to  eat  a  little  of  the  fish,  which  came  next,  but 
the  horrible  manners  of  St.  Victor  had  completely  spoiled  my 
appetite.  As  I  very  seldom  ate  meat — I  attribute  my  long  hfe 
partly  to  the  fact  that  I  have  rarely  departed  from  vegetarianism — 
I  got  very  little  to  eat  that  night. 

"  When  the  vegetable  course  was  over,  Duquesnel  rose  to 
his  feet  and,  in  a  few  words,  proposed  our  host,  Victor  Hugo's, 
health.  Hugo  then  replied  in  a  long  address,  full  of  sentiment  and 
expression,  in  which  he  was  good  enough  to  refer  to  me  as 
the  '  animatrice  '  of  the  play. 

"  '  I,'  he  declared,  '  have  only  written  the  piece,  but  she  has 
lived  it  !  '  Then,  turning  to  me  and  bowing,  he  said  :  Mademois- 
elle, you  have  a  voice  of  gold  !  ' 

"  When  I  rose  to  my  feet  and  started  to  reply,  Paul  de  St. 
Victor,  who  had  been  awaiting  an  opportunity  to  vent  his  spite, 
brought  down  his  glass  so  violently  that  it  was  broken.  I  handed 
him  mine. 

"  '  Use  this,  monsieur,'  I  said  to  him.  '  You  would  not  look 
natural  without  a  glass  in  your  hand.' 

"  The  table  laughed,  and  I  was  given  courage  to  continue.  I 
was  in  the  middle  of  a  little  eulogy  of  my  co-workers  in  the  piece, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  175 

when  my  gaze  suddenly  fell  on  the  face  of  Chilly,  and  I  stopped 

"  The  little  director's  face  was  ashen,  where  a  moment  before 
it  had  been  red  and  perspiring.  His  eyes  were  wide  open  and 
staring  at  me,  with  a  glassy  look  about  them  that  frightened  me. 

"  '  Chilly  !     Mo7t  ami  ! '  I  cried. 

"  His  eyes  met  mine  without  a  shade  of  expression,  though  his 
mouth  opened  and  shut,  as  if  he  was  trying  to  speak. 

"  '  ChiUy  !  '  I  cried,  terror-stricken,  and  everyone  at  the  table 
rose  to  their  feet.  I  rushed  to  his  side  and,  kneeling,  put  my  arms 
about  him  as  he  sat  in  his  chair.  '  Tell  me,  what  is  the  matter  ?  ' 
I  asked. 

"  '  Somebody  is  holding  me  !  '  he  muttered,  in  a  thick  voice. 
'  I  cannot  move  !  ' 

"  '  It  is  the  heat ;  he  has  had  a  little  stroke  ;  it  is  nothing  !  ' 
said  Victor  Hugo,  with  authority. 

"  Chilly  was  carried  into  one  of  the  small  dining-rooms, 
and  laid  on  a  couch.  Victor  Hugo  and  Duquesnel  stood  at 
the  door,  as  guards,  to  keep  the  curious  away.  To  everyone 
they  declared  that  it  was  nothing  and  that  Chilly  would  be  all 
right  in  a  few  moments. 

"  I  returned  to  the  table  and  sat  down.  In  my  heart  I 
realised  that  Chilly  would  not  be  all  right' — that  it  was  the  end. 
And  I  thought  of  all  the  times  that  this  little  man  had  befriended 
me,  reviewed  in  my  mind  the  occasions — yes,  even  on  that 
very  day^ — when  I  had  been  thoughtless  and  even  brutal  with 
him.  Ah,  I  was  sorry !  If  I  could  but  have  obtained  his 
forgiveness.  ... 

"  No  sooner  had  this  idea  come  into  my  head  than  I  rushed 

176  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

away  to  put  it  into  execution.  I  would  fall  on  my  knees  beside 
my  friend  and  teacher,  and  beg  his  forgiveness.  .  .  . 

"  At  the  door  I  was  met  by  Victor  Hugo.  One  look  at  his 
face  and  I  knew  that  I  was  too  late. 

"  Raising  his  voice,  Hugo  announced  to  the  room  :  '  Monsieur 
Chilly  has  been  taken  to  his  home  ;  we  hope  that  he  will  recover 
to-morrow.'  He  could  not  tell  them  the  truth,  as  they  sat  there 
at  his  table.  Then,  to  me,  in  reply  to  my  mute  and  terrified 
inquiry,  he  said,  in  a  low  voice  :  '  He  has  gone.  ...  A  beautiful 
death  !  ' 

"  Those  who  did  not  know  the  truth  remained  to  finish  dinner. 
Duquesnel  took  me  home.  I  cried  all  night.  And  the  next  day 
a  lawyer  came  to  me  and  told  me  that  almost  the  last  act  of 
Chilly— he  had  threatened  it,  but  I  had  never  believed  that  he 
would  keep  his  word— had  been  to  begin  an  action  against  me 
for  breach  of  contract.  I  lost  the  case,  and  was  sentenced  to 
pay  ten  thousand  francs  damages,  but  this  was  paid  by  the 
Comedie,  as  provided  in  my  contract." 

The  death  of  Chilly  was  not  the  strangest  event  of  that  fatal 
dinner.  Madame  Lambquin  became  suddenly  ill.  She  told 
everyone  that  a  fortune-teller,  only  a  few  days  previously,  had 
prophesied  she  would  die  within  a  week  of  the  death  of  "  a  little 
dark  man."  Chilly  was  small  and  dark^and  precisely  seven  days 
after  his  death,  Madame  Lambquin  died. 

Victor  Hugo,  when  he  heard  of  this  latest  tragedy,  exclaimed  : 

"  Without  a  doubt  Death  himself  was  at  my  dinner.  I  think 
he  aimed  at  me,  but  he  must  be  short-sighted,  for  one  of  his 
arrows  went  to  my  right,  and  slew  Chilly,  and  the  other  swerved 
to  my  left,  and  killed  Lambquin  !  " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  177 

A  few  days  later  Sarah  received  a  note  from  Sarcey,  asking 
her  to  be  present  at  a  conference  in  the  directors'  office  at  the 
Comedie,  to  decide  which  was  to  be  her  first  role.  Sarah  wished 
to  play  the  part  of  Britanicus  as  her  dehut,  and  naturally,  as 
Sarcey 's  note  spoke  of  a  "  conference,"  she  anticipated  that  her 
wishes  were  to  be  deferred  to. 

On  the  way  to  the  theatre  she  confided  her  desire  to  play 
Britanicus  to  Sarcey,  who  said  nothing.  Judge  of  Sarah's  surprise, 
therefore,  when  Sarcey  opened  the  "conference"  by  announc- 
ing abruptly  :  "  Mile.  Bernhardt  believes  that  she  would  prefer 
to  make  her  dehut  in  Mademoiselle  de  Belle  Isle." 

Sarah  was  so  astounded  she  could  scarcely  speak,  and  before 
she  could  make  an  adequate  protest  she  was  outside  the  door  of 
Perrin's  office,  with  the  play  a  chose  jugee.  Then  she  turned  upon 
Sarcey  furiously. 

"  Why  did  you  do  that  ?  "  she  asked. 

"  I  wish  you  to  play  this  part  !  You  can  have  your 
Britanicus  afterwards,  if  you  like  !  " 

Sarcey  spoke  carelessly,  and  his  manner  was  an  indication  of 
the  influence  he  exerted  at  the  Comedie.  Sarah  was  wise  enough 
not  to  dispute  his  decision,  but  she  was  nevertheless  angry 
with  him,  and  refused  to  see  or  write  to  him  for  several 

Her  anger  was  increased  when  she  found  that  her  role  in  Madem- 
oiselle de  Belle  Isle  was  not  in  reality  the  most  prominent  part  in 
the  play.  Two  other  famous  actresses,  public  favourites  of  the 
Comedie,  were  in  the  cast — Sophie  Croizette  and  Madeleine 
Brohan.     The  latter,  by  her  own  request,  retired  from  the  play 

during  rehearsals.     Sophie  Croizette  was  Sarah's  great  rival  for 


178  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

popular  favour.  She  had  held  the  first  female  role  at  the  Frangais 
for  several  years — since  before  the  war,  in  fact. 

Sarah  decided  that  she  would  play  the  name  part,  Mademoiselle 
de  Belle  Isle,  so  extravagantly  well  that  none  of  the  audience 
would  spare  a  second  thought  for  Croizette,  in  her  part  of  the 
Marquise  de  Prie,  who  in  the  play  is  kissed  in  the  dark  by  the 
Due  de  Richelieu,  in  mistake  for  the  lady  from  Belle  Isle.  At 
rehearsals  Sarah  was  magnificent.  Croizette,  who  was  an  intimate 
friend,  despite  their  rivalry,  used  to  come  to  her  in  despair. 

"  You  are  splendid' — but  you  give  no  opportunity  to  the 
rest  of  us  !  " 

The  play  was  produced  on  November  6,  1872,  and  the  first 
act  was  a  triumph  for  Sarah  There  was  indeed  every  indication 
that  new  glory  was  about  to  descend  on  the  immortal  queen  of 
Ruy  Bias  when,  at  the  beginning  of  the  second  act,  she  caught 
sight  of  her  mother  in  a  stage-box. 

Julie  was  leaning  back  in  a  chair,  her  eyes  closed,  and  beads 
of  perspiration  on  her  forehead.  Sarah  knew  immediately  what 
had  happened.  Her  mother  suffered  from  a  weak  heart,  and  several 
times  before  had  had  a  similar  seizure. 

The  tragic  death  of  Chilly,  which  she  had  all  but  witnessed, 
was  fresh  in  Sarah's  mind,  and  doctors  had  told  her  years  before 
that  she  must  expect  her  mother's  disease  to  end  fatally  one  day. 
She  watched  the  stage-box  in  agonised  fashion,  while  the  audience 
became  bewildered  at  the  extraordinary  change  which  had  come 
over  their  star. 

Sarah  stumbled  through  the  rest  of  the  play,  and  immediately 
afterwards,  learning  that  Julie  had  been  carried  there  from  the 
theatre,  hurried  to  her  mother's  home. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  179 

Meanwhile  the  danger  had  passed.  When  Sarah  arrived,  she 
found  her  mother  pale,  but  otherwise  recovered,  and  taking 

Returning  to  her  own  flat  she  found  a   note  from  Sarcey  : 

"  It  was  ludicrous.  Shall  I  ever  understand  you  ?  The  first 
act  was  wonderful ;   in  the  others  you  spoilt  the  play  !  " 

Furious  that  he  should  not  have  seen  the  reason  for  her 
agitation,  Sarah  refused  to  make  any  excuse  for  herself  or  to  give 
him  the  slightest  explanation.  So,  when  his  criticism  of  the  play 
appeared  in  Le  Temps,  five  days  later,  he  was  evidently  in  two 
minds  as  to  whether  to  praise  or  condemn.  His  hesitation  shows 
itself  in  several  passages. 

At  the  beginning  of  his  critique  he  said  : 

"  It  must  be  admitted  that,  independently  of  her  personal 
merit,  there  have  formed  around  the  person  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 
a  number  of  true  or  false  legends,  which  excite  the  curiosity  of 
the  public.  But  it  was  a  disappointment  when  she  appeared. 
Her  costume  exaggerated  her  slenderness,  and  her  face  had  been 
whitened  too  much  with  powder.  The  impression  was  not 

This  was  because  he  had  urged  her  to  modify  her  costume 
and  she  had  not  done  so.  Further  on,  Sarcey  wrote  that  she 
"  trembled  convulsively  "  during  the  play,  and  while  admitting 
that  she  had  "  marvellous  grace,"  still  insisted  that  she  "  was  lost 
in  the  strong  passages."     But  he  added,  "  were  she  to  possess  a 

i8o  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

vibrant  dramatic  quality  equal  to  her  enchanting  voice,  she  would 
be  a  perfect  actress,  an  actress  unequalled  at  the  present  day." 
This,  when  his  previous  articles  are  remembered,  was  quite  an 
admission,  and  he  ended  his  article  with  a  real  eulogy  : 

"  At  the  close  of  the  play  the  artiste  apparently  found  herself, 
and  for  a  brief  space  we  could  recognise  in  her  Our  Sarah — the 
Sarah  of  twenty  successes." 

By  the  way,  he  had  not  admitted  one  of  those  successes 
himself  ! 

It  was  only  after  the  publication  of  his  critique- — which  in  the 
circumstances  Sarah  recognised  as  just- — that  he  discovered  the 
real  reason  for  her  poor  performance.  He  then  had  the  grace 
not  only  to  apologise  personally,  but  to  publish  an  account  of  what 
had  happened  in  a  later  issue  of  Le  Temps. 

His  apology,  however,  could  not  alter  the  fact  that  the  public 
thought  her  explanation  only  an  artiste's  excuse,  and  the  honours 
of  the  play  went  definitely  to  Sophie  Croizette,  who  was  really 
one  of  the  most  accomplished  artistes  who  have  ever  adorned  the 
French  stage. 

For  the  next  ten  years  there  was  a  terrific  rivalry  between 
these  two — not  only  in  Paris,  but  abroad. 

If  Sarah  created  a  role  one  week,  Sophie  created  one  the  next, 
and  critics  were  divided  in  their  opinion  as  to  which  was  the 
greater  actress.  If  Sarah  went  on  tour,  so  did  Sophie  ;  and  the 
duel  between  these  two  close  friends  kept  Paris  perpetually 

It  was  generally  agreed,  finally,  that  Sarah  was  the  greater 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  i8i 

actress,  but  that  she  was  also  the  more  eccentric,  the  more 
apt  to  lose  her  head  ;  nor,  it  was  said,  did  she  have  the  innate 
technique  that  distinguished  Croizette's  performances. 

Croizette  had  few  enemies — and  perhaps  that  is  why  she  has 
been  forgotten,  or  nearly  so,  by  the  public.  Sarah,  on  the  con- 
trary, used  to  say  that  she  counted  a  day  lost  wherein  she  had  not 
made  "  either  a  true  enemy  or  a  supposedly  true  friend." 

i82  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


Episode  now  succeeded  episode  in  the  life  of  the  young  actress — 
for  she  was  still  not  more  than  twenty-eight  years  old. 

She  quarrelled  with  Francisque  Sarcey  and  fell  in  love  with 
an  old  friend  of  the  Odeon — Mounet-SuUy,  the  handsomest  actor 
on  the  French  stage,  who,  like  Sarah,  had  been  taken  from  the 
Odeon  by  the  management  of  the  Theatre  Fran9ais. 

She  acquired  her  famous  coffin,  which  never  afterwards  left 
her,  and  in  which  her  remains  now  lie  at  P^re  Lachaise. 

She  was  sued  right  and  left  for  debt. 

Her  sister  Regine  died. 

Her  own  health  became  precarious,  and  a  physical  examina- 
tion showed  a  spot  on  her  right  lung. 

Most  of  these  events  occurred  within  the  first  three  years  of 
her  re-engagement  at  the  Comedie  Fran9aise.  Her  eight  years 
at  this  theatre  were  among  the  most  eventful  of  her  life. 

During  them  she  became  the  darling  of  one  part  of  Paris,  and 
the  scorn  of  another  part.  During  them  she  was  credited  with 
having  had  "  affairs  "  with  no  less  than  nine  prominent  men. 
During  them  her  fame  spread  throughout  the  world. 

Her  quarrel  with  Sarcey  dated  from  the  moment  she  felt 
herself  strong  enough  to  stand  without  his  aid.  I  shall  never 
believe  that  her  Uaison  with  Sarcey  was  actuated  by  anything 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  183 

except  the  motives  of  professional  expediency.  In  fact,  she 
practically  admitted  this  to  me. 

"  Sarcey,"  she  said,  "  was  one  of  those  highly-gifted  but 
intolerant  men  whose  one  aim  in  life  is  to  mould  the  opinions  of 
their  friends  and  intimates  to  suit  themselves.  He  was  a  brilliant 
writer,  a  still  more  brilliant  conversationalist,  and  there  is  no  doubt 
that,  as  a  theatrical  critic,  he  was  head  and  shoulders  above  any 
other  then  living  in  France. 

"  His  judgment  was  deferred  to  by  most  of  the  theatrical 
managers,  and  especially  by  those  at  the  Comedie,  whose  political 
views  and  connections  were  the  same  as  those  of  Sarcey  himself. 
It  was  said  that  Sarcey  could  procure  the  admission  or  the  resigna- 
tion of  anybody  at  the  Comedie.  He  was  extremely  opinionated 
and  very  hard  to  change  once  he  had  made  up  his  mind.  He 
hardly  ever  forgot  a  slight,  and  never  an  insult. 

"  He  was  unquestionabl}^  an  enemy  of  mine  from  the  beginning, 
and  I  made  him  my  friend  when  it  became  necessary  to  do  so, 
but  not  because  I  was  in  any  doubt  as  to  his  character.  I  found  that, 
like  many  geniuses,  he  was  insupportable  in  private  life.  He  would 
rave  and  tear  his  hair  twice  or  three  times  a  day  over  matters 
without  the  slightest  consequence.  He  usurped  the  privilege  of 
'  protecting  '  me,  and  as  a  consequence  a  wrong  interpretation 
was  put  on  our  friendship  by  the  theatrical  world,  to  which  the 
word  '  protector  '  meant  only  one  thing — lover. 

"  People  were  bound  to  comment  on  the  fact  when  a  promi- 
nent man  like  Sarcey  came  night  after  night  to  the  theatre  and 
insisted  on  seeing  me  home.  Why,  he  used  to  speak  of  me  to 
his  friends  as  his  proUgee.  What  actually  happened  was  that 
my  art  and  my  determination  to  succeed  triumphed  over  his 

184  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

enmity,  and,  finding  that  he  could  not  hamper  my  career,  he  did 
his  best  to  make  people  think  he  was  responsible  for  it. 

"  He  was  subject  to  fits  of  extreme  jealousy,  and  would  carry 
on  for  hours  if  I  so  much  as  accepted  another  man's  invitation  to 
dinner.  He  acted  as  though  he  owned  me,  and  when  things  got 
to  this  pass  I  decided  to  demonstrate  to  him  that  he  did  not." 

She  accomplished  this  very  effectually  by  yielding  to  the 
supplications  of  Mounet-Sully. 

When  Sarah  re-entered  the  Comedie  Fran9aise,  Mounet- 
Sully  was  the  reigning  power  there.  His  fame  was  widespread  ; 
he  was  probably  not  only  the  finest  but  also  the  handsomest 
actor  on  the  European  stage. 

Of  Mounet-Sully  it  was  written  :  "  He  is  as  handsome  as  a 
god,  like  a  hero  of  Greek  tragedy,"  and  it  was  of  these  tragedies 
that  he  was  incomparably  the  greatest  interpreter  of  his  epoch. 

There  is  reason  to  believe  that  Sarah's  affair  with  Sully  was 
secret  for  many  months  during  which  she  and  Sarcey,  who  sus- 
pected nothing  at  the  time,  remained  friends. 

Later,  however,  he  began  to  hear  gossip  linking  their  names, 
and  once  he  overheard  Sarah  address  Mounet-Sully  by  the  familiar 
"  tu."  This  may  or  may  not  have  been  significant,  for  artists  of 
the  French  stage  generally  use  the  second  person  singular  in 
talking  among  themselves. 

Mounet-Sully  also  was  young,  and  of  a  jealous  temperament. 
There  came  a  day  when  he  could  no  longer  bear  the  covert  sneers 
of  the  critic.  Coming  down  from  his  dressing-room  after  a  rehearsal, 
he  found  Sarcey  striding  backwards  and  forwards  on  the  stage. 

"  What  are  you  doing  here  ?  "  he  shouted.  "  Do  not  deny 
it- — you  are  waiting  for  Sarah  !  " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  (aged  30)  and  her  son,  Maurice,  on  the  only  occasion 

when  he  acted  with  her. 

Photo,  Henri  Manuel.] 


Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  185 

"  What  if  I  am  ?  "  demanded  Sarcey  imperturbably.  "  Who 
has  a  better  right  ?  " 

"  Pig  !  Son  of  a  pig  !  "  cried  the  enraged  young  actor, 
losing  all  self-control  at  the  cool  cynicism  of  the  critic.  "  I 
challenge  you  to  a  duel !  " 

"  I  do  not  fight  with  children  !  "  replied  Sarcey,  and  spat  on 
the  floor  to  signify  his  contempt. 

Sarah  had  been  standing  in  the  wings,  and  had  overheard  the 
dispute.     She  now  came  forward. 

"  Francisque,  take  me  to  supper  !  "  she  said,  darting  an  angry 
look  at  Mounet -Sully.  She  could  never  bear  these  open  quarrels 
between  her  admirers. 

The  actor  did  not  speak  to  her  for  a  month,  but  they  composed 
their  differences  later  and  remained  lovers  for  almost  a  year,  only 
to  separate  again  as  the  result  of  another  fit  of  jealousy  on  Mounet- 
Sully's  part. 

For  a  short  while  they  were  again  enemies,  and  then,  once 
more  deciding  to  make  it  up,  remained  friends  throughout  the 
remainder  of  Mounet-SuUy's  long  career.  When  he  married — 
his  grand-daughter  recently  obtained  a  premier  prix  at  the  Paris 
Conservatoire^ — Sarah  was  present  at  the  wedding,  and  sent  the 
young  couple  a  magnificent  gift. 

In  1874  Sarah  was  taken  ill,  as  the  result  of  a  cold,  which 
developed  into  pleurisy.  She  was  in  bed  for  a  month,  and  at 
the  end  of  this  period  an  examination  by  three  doctors  revealed 
that  one  of  her  lungs  was  slightly  affected.  She  was  advised  to 
leave  the  theatre,  and  to  go  to  Switzerland  for  six  months. 

"  How  long  do  you  give  me  to  live  ?  "  she  asked  one  of  the 

i86  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  Not  longer  than  five  years,  if  you  do  not  take  a  complete 
rest  until  you  are  cured,"  he  replied. 

"  Five  years !  But  that  is  a  lifetime !  "  she  answered. 
"  When  I  was  seventeen  the  doctors  gave  me  only  three  years, 
and  I  have  lived  thirteen.     I  shall  continue  acting  until  I  die  !  " 

And,  despite  all  remonstrances  from  her  friends,  she  returned 
to  the  theatre  as  soon  as  she  was  able  to  leave  her  bed.  To  the 
doctors'  astonishment  also,  ten  months  later  the  spot  on  her  lung 
completely  disappeared.     Perhaps  it  had  never  existed  ! 

About  this  time  she  was  asked  by  an  admirer  what  he  could 
send  her  as  a  souvenir. 

"  They  say  I  am  to  die,"  said  Sarah,  gaily,  "  so  you  may  send 
me  a  coffin  !  " 

The  admirer  took  her  at  her  word,  and  a  week  later  she  received 
a  letter  from  a  famous  firm  of  coffin  makers,  stating  that  an  order 
had  been  received  for  a  coffin  for  mademoiselle,  which  was  to  be 
constructed  according  to  her  own  wishes. 

Sarah  was  most  particular  in  regard  to  this  coffin.  She  made 
several  designs,  only  to  discard  them  one  after  the  other.  Finally 
she  agreed  that  it  should  be  constructed  of  fine-grained  rosewood, 
and  that  the  handles  and  "  hoops  "  should  be  of  solid  silver. 
She  afterwards  had  these  changed  to  gold,  but  subsequently,  during 
one  of  her  frequent  periods  of  impecuniosity,  she  sold  the  golden 
hoops  and  had  them  replaced  with  the  silver  ones  that  were  on 
the  coffin  when  she  was  buried. 

For  the  remainder  of  her  life  this  coffin,  "  le  cercueil  de  Sarah 
Bernhardt,"  never  left  her,  even  when  she  was  travelling.  It 
attained  an  almost  legendary  fame.  She  had  a  mahogany  trestle 
made  for  the  coffin,  on  which  it  stood  at  the  end  of  her  great  bed, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  187 

so  that  she  could  see  it  from  her  pillow,  without  an  effort,  on 

"  To  remind  me  that  my  body  will  soon  be  dust  and  that  my 
glory  alone  will  live  for  ever  !  "  she  said. 

"  How  long  will  it  last  ?  "  she  inquired  of  the  makers  when 
they  delivered  the  coffin. 

"  For  centuries  !  "  replied  they. 

"  It  will  need  to  last  at  least  one,  for  I  am  determined  to 
disappoint  the  doctors  and  live  to  be  a  hundred  !  "  she  answered. 

She  delighted  to  be  photographed  lying,  dressed  in  different 
costumes,  in  her  coffin.  More  than  fifty  different  photographs 
and  sketches  were  made  of  her  in  this  situation.  On  occasions, 
when  guests  came  to  her  house  for  tea,  she  would  serve  it  to  them 
on  the  coffin. 

Once  she  held  a  mock  funeral.  The  rosewood  coffin  with  its 
golden  ornaments  was  brought  with  much  pomp  and  ceremony 
into  the  studio-salon  at  the  rear  of  her  apartment,  and  Sarah, 
dressed  in  a  long  white  robe  and  with  a  lily  in  her  hand,  climbed 
into  it  and  lay  at  full-length  as  though  dead. 

While  I  played  the  "  Funeral  March  "  by  Chopin  on  the  piano, 
the  poet  Robert  de  Montesquiou  ceremoniously  placed  lighted 
candles  around  the  coffin  ;  while  the  other  guests,  who  included 
Jeanne  Bernhardt,  Madame  Guerard  and  Madame  de  Winter, 
kept  up  a  monotonous  chant,  reminiscent  of  the  burial 

She  carried  the  coffin  ever3rwhere  with  her.  It  was  a  sight 
to  see  it  loaded  on  top  of  the  ancient  carriage  in  which  she  was 
wont  to  make  her  provincial  trips.  At  hotels  in  which  she  stayed, 
the  coffin  was  invariably  taken  into  her  bedroom  before  she  herself 

i88  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

would  enter  it,  and  placed  in  the  accustomed  position  at  the  foot 
of  the  bed. 

On  one  occasion  when  we  were  touring  the  South  of  France, 
the  personnel  of  a  hotel  at  Nimes  struck  sooner  than  permit  the 
coffin  to  be  brought  into  the  hotel.  The  superstitious  proprietor 
was  in  tears,  and  swore  that  the  funereal  object  meant  unhappiness 
to  his  family  and  bad  luck  to  his  business. 

Nothing  daunted,  Sarah  insisted  on  the  coffin  being  brought 
in,  and  then  called  together  the  members  of  the  troupe. 

"  You  and  I,"  she  said  to  me,  "  will  be  the  cooks.  You," 
indicating  Pierre  Berton  (then  my  husband),  "  will  be  the  waiter." 

Other  members  of  the  troupe  were  given  their  parts  as  chamber 
maids,  dishwashers,  valets  and  the  like,  and  for  a  whole  day  we 
ran  that  hotel.  The  next  day  the  personnel,  having  been  given 
free  tickets  to  the  theatre,  were  so  impressed  by  Sarah's  personality 
that  they  returned  to  work  in  a  body,  and  the  manager,  declaring 
that  he  had  never  eaten  better  meals  than  those  prepared  by 
Sarah  and  myself,  refused  to  accept  a  franc  in  payment  for  our 
rooms  and  board. 

As  soon  as  it  was  finished,  Sarah  had  the  coffin  taken  to 
her  flat  and  placed  alongside  her  Louis  XVI.  bed.  Whenever 
visitors  came  to  call  upon  her,  she  would  make  a  point  of  showing 
them  this  strange  piece  of  furniture. 

Her  sister  R^gine,  who  was  tubercular,  had  been  sent  to 
Switzerland,  but  when  her  disease  became  complicated  with 
another  malady,  all  hope  was  given  up,  and  she  returned  to  Paris, 
to  her  sister's  flat. 

Sarah  had  only  just  moved  into  this  new  home  and  had  only 
one  bedroom,  so  Regine  and  she  at  first  shared  the  same  bed. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  189 

Regine's  condition  grew  so  serious,  however,  that  the  doctors 
warned  Sarah  that  she  could  no  longer  sleep  with  her  sister 
without  a  serious  risk  of  contracting  the  malady. 

Accordingly,  Sarah  made  up  a  bed  in  the  coffin  and  slept  in 

When  the  doctor  came  he  was  horrified. 

"  Take  that  thing  out  !  "  he  ordered.     "  It  is  not  yet  time !  " 

With  some  difficulty  Sarah  convinced  him  that  the  coffin  was 
not  meant  for  her  sister,  but  was  her  own  bed.  A  few  days  later 
Regine  died. 

The  tragedy  had  its  effect  on  Sarah's  life  for  a  year  or  more, 
and  she  became  a  devout  worker.  Her  name  gradually  ceased 
to  be  connected  by  gossipy  writers  with  the  scandals  of  the  day. 
But  after  a  year  of  mourning  she  flung  off  her  mask  of  grief  and 
"  La  Grande  Sarah,"  as  she  was  known,  again  became  a  reigning 
queen  of  Paris. 

She  fitted  up  one  of  the  rooms  of  her  flat  as  a  studio,  and  here, 
when  she  was  not  at  the  theatre  or  resting,  she  worked  at  painting 
and  sculpture. 

Sarah  Bernhardt,  as  Charles  de  Lagrille  said,  was  not  simply 
an  incomparable  artiste  ;  she  was  the  artiste^ — artiste  in  the  most 
complete  sense  of  the  word.  She  understood  and  realised  in  the 
most  perfect  fashion  the  ideal  of  Beauty. 

Sarah  was  not  only  the  interpreter  of  Phedre, 

"  La  fill e  de  Minos  et  de  PasiphcB," 

that  demi-goddess  whom  she  incarnated  so  superbly ;  she  was 
also  the  wise  genius  who  discovered  and  launched  poets  and 
authors  without  number— Coppee,  Mendfes,  Richepin,  and  the  two 

I  go  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Rostands,  father  and  son.  But  her  love  of  beauty  was  not  con- 
fined to  the  theatre  alone  ;  she  was  equally  at  home  in  all  branches 
of  Art  ;  she  was  novelist,  dramatist,  painter  and  sculptor. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  published,  in  1878,  as  we  shall  see,  a  book 
which  was  greatly  appreciated  by  the  literary  critics  of  the  time 
and  which  was  entitled  "  In  the  Clouds."  Replying  to  the  famous 
and  scurrilous  publication  "  Sarah  Barnum,"  she  wrote  in  retahation 
a  work  called  "  Marie  Pigeonnier."  She  was  also  the  author 
of  her  own  "  Memoirs,"  and  of  two  modest  works  of  fiction,  one 
of  which  was  published  only  a  few  years  before  her  death,  as 
well  as  several  short  stories. 

Three  successes  were  recorded  by  Sarah  Bernhardt,  the  drama- 
tist. They  were  L'Aveu,  produced  at  the  Odeon  in  1888  by 
such  interpreters  as  Paul  Mounet,  Marquet,  Raphaele,  Sisos  and 
Samary  ;  Adrienne  Lecouvreur,  a  piece  in  five  acts,  in  which  she 
played  the  title  part  herself,  and  in  which  have  since  played  such 
distinguished  actors  as  de  Max,  Gerval,  Decoeur  and  Charlotte 
Barbier ;  and  Un  Cceur  d' Homme,  a  three-act  play,  which 
Henry  Roussel  and  Emmy  Lyn  produced  in  1909. 

But  the  theatre  is  only  one  sphere  of  Art.  The  great  actress 
was  also  a  great  painter.  Her  pictures,  said  critics,  lacked  the 
masterly  technique  that  only  long  experience  and  training  could 
have  given  her,  but  they  were  frank,  well-proportioned,  and  dis- 
tinguished for  their  colour  values. 

Just  after  she  returned  to  the  Comedie  Fran9aise,  she  painted 
my  portrait,  and  this  picture,  needless  to  say,  is  still  one  of 
my  most  prized  possessions.     It  is  reproduced  in  this  book. 

At  the  Salon  of  1878  she  showed  a  remarkable  composition 
entitled  "  Young  Girl  and  Death."    This  canvas  represented 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  191 

Death  clutching  at  an  artiste  with  a  bouquet  of  flowers  in  her  hand. 
It  was  an  indication  of  the  morbid  strain  in  her  character. 

In  1872,  after  her  first  triumph  at  the  Comedie,  the  sculptor 
Mathieu-Mesnier  asked  for  permission  to  make  her  bust.  She 
consented,  watched  his  work,  and  asked  innumerable  questions. 
Thereafter,  nothing  would  do  but  that  she  herself  must  become 
a  sculptress. 

Her  first  attempt  in  this  direction  was  a  medallion  bust  of  her 
aunt  at  Neuilly.  This  was  finished  in  one  night  and  when  ex- 
hibited astonished  the  critics  by  its  virility  and  resemblance  to 
the  model.  Mathieu-Mesnier  continued  to  instruct  her,  and  she 
passed  most  of  her  nights  in  modelling. 

Her  next  effort  was  a  bust  of  her  young  sister,  R^gine — 
made  a  few  days  before  the  latter's  death.  Others  of  her  best 
sculptures  (many  of  which  were  sold  at  the  recent  auction  in 
Paris)  were  "  After  the  Tempest,"  a  group  in  marble  ;  busts  of 
Victorien  Sardou,  Blanche  Barretta,  Busnach  (the  dramatist 
who  prepared  Zola  for  the  theatre),  Henry  de  la  Pomoraye, 
Coquelin,  junior  ;  her  son,  Maurice  ;  Louise  Abbema  and  Edmond 
Rostand.  The  last  was  completed  after  the  poet's  death,  and 
was  exhibited  in  the  Rostand  museum. 

192  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


"  La  Grande  Sarah  "  had  now  become  an  extraordinary  figure 
in  the  contemporary  life  of  Paris,  There  were  two  camps,  one 
composed  of  her  friends,  the  other  of  her  enemies,  and  at  one 
time  it  was  difficult  to  know  which  group  was  the  more  numerous. 

The  friends  of  Sarah  were  called  the  "  Sara  dot  eurs,"  and 
cartoons  of  the  great  actress  surrounded  by  her  court  became 
commonplaces  in  the  metropolitan  press.  The  weeklies  were 
full  of  real  or  imagined  escapades  of  the  triumphant  artiste  of 
the  Comedie  Frangaise. 

It  was  said  that  she  bathed  in  milk  ;  that  she  had  made  the 
circuit  of  the  Champs  Elysees  in  the  snow,  with  neither  shoes  nor 
stockings  on  ;  that  she  had  entered  the  cage  of  a  lion  at  the  St. 
Cloud  fete,  and  subsequently  purchased  the  lion  ;  that  she  had  a 
regular  menagerie  chained  up  in  her  flat  and  that  in  consequence 
the  neighbours  had  complained  and  that  she  was  to  be  forced  to 
move  ;  that  she  had  been  twice  seen  on  the  boulevards  with  the 
young  Prince  Napoleon,  who  was  supposed  to  be  in  exile  ;  that 
she  was  at  heart  a  Bonapartist,  and  was  secretly  working  for  the 
restoration  of  the  monarchy  ;  that  she  had  an  enormous  appetite 
for  strong  drink  ;  that  she  had  ordered  a  coach-and-four  in  gold 
and  ebony  that  was  to  cost  two  hundred  thousand  francs  ;  that 
she  had  slapped  the  face  of  Perrin,  the  director  of  the  Theatre 
Frangais  ;  that  she  was  not  a  woman  at  all,  but  a  boy  masquerad- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  193 

ing  in  woman's  clothes  (this  was  doubtless  owing  to  Sarah's  start- 
ling success  in  young  male  parts)  ;  that  Gambetta  himself  had 
called  upon  her,  and  had  been  received  in  the  actress's  cabinet  de 
toilette,  where  she  happened  to  be  washing  herself  ;  that  she  had 
given  five  hundred  francs  to  a  blind  beggar,  because  she  thought 
he  resembled  a  former  lover  ;  that  she  dressed  up  as  a  man  and 
frequented  public  balls  in  disguise,  challenging  men  friends  to 
duels  and  then  revealing  herself  to  them. 

I  have  no  way  of  verifying  any  of  these  tales.  From  what  I 
myself  know  of  Sarah  and  her  way  of  living,  I  expect  that  parts 
of  them,  at  any  rate,  were  true. 

It  was  a  saying  that  there  were  three  celebrated  hours  in 
Paris  :  One  o'clock,  Gambetta  smokes  his  second  cigar  ;  four 
o'clock,  prices  fall  at  the  Bourse  ;  five  o'clock,  Sarah  receives  for 

Every  afternoon  her  flat  was  filled  with  a  motley  assembly  of 
the  great  and  the  nearly  great.  Sarah  used  to  receive  them  in 
her  sculptor's  clothes,  a  kind  of  pyjama  costume,  designed  by 
herself  and  made  of  silk.  She  would  stand  at  the  entrance  of  her 
workroom,  imperious  as  a  queen  receiving  homage  from  her  people. 

The  first  thing  guests  perceived  on  entering  was  a  gigantic 
dog  on  a  short  chain,  which  growled  and  sprang  at  everyone  who 
came  in.  Many  people  could  not  be  persuaded  to  visit  Sarah  on 
account  of  this  dog.  My  aunt  was  one — I  never  got  her  past  the 
door,  where  she  would  sit  and  wait  for  me  patiently,  while  telling 
the  growling  animal,  from  a  safe  distance,  what  she  thought  of 

This  dog  was  a  great  friend  of  mine,  and  not  the  brute  which 

sprang  at  my  throat  in  the  manner  related  in  a  preceding  chapter. 


194  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

He  never  growled  at  me,  though  I  was  in  and  out  of  Sarah's 
home  at  all  hours  of  the  day.  I  used  to  help  her  to  mix  her  clay, 
and  several  times  posed  for  an  effect  that  she  wanted  to  get 

A  flight  of  five  or  six  stairs  led  up  to  the  first  reception  room, 
where  champagne  cup  usually  stood  on  a  small  table  ;  and  in  the 
hall  outside  this  room  a  disagreeable  surprise  awaited  the  unwary 
visitor.  This  was  a  full-sized  monkey,  which  was  fastened  by  one 
leg  to  a  chair,  but  was  otherwise  free  to  move  about — which  he 
did,  with  a  great  chattering  and  gnashing  of  teeth. 

The  little  drawing-room  had  in  it  two  birdcages  and  a  great 
tank  of  goldfish,  while  cats  and  small  dogs  roamed  about  in  a 
most  casual  way.  Philippe,  an  old  waiter  whom  Sarah  had 
persuaded  to  leave  the  Cafe  du  Foyer  (?)  and  enter  her  service, 
was  in  perpetual  terror  of  all  these  animals  and  eventually  left 
Sarah's  service,  after  he  had  been  bitten  in  the  hand  by  the 

Sarah  usually  had  something  new  in  the  way  of  statuary  to 
show  her  guests.  I  remember  well  when  she  did  her  "  Medee," 
a  piece  almost  as  big  as  she  was  herself  ;  and  once,  when  I  entered 
unannounced,  I  found  her  starting  the  bust  of  the  famous  Adolphe 
de  Rothschild,  for  which  he  had  promised  her  ten  thousand  francs. 
Sarah  had  a  lot  of  trouble  with  this  piece  of  work.  She  said  it 
was  because  the  Baron  continually  changed  his  expression.  At 
any  rate,  when  the  bust  was  finally  achieved,  all  Rothschild's 
comment,  after  looking  at  it,  was  to  say  drily  : 
"  Is  that  me  ?  " 

Then  he  turned  to  a  writing-table  to  draw  up  an  order  on  his 
bank  for  the  ten  thousand  francs,  only  to  be  arrested  by  a  crash. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  195 

Sarah  stood  in  the  centre  of  the  floor  panting,  her  eyes  flashing 
and  her  breast  heaving.  On  the  floor  lay  the  bust,  smashed  to 
a  thousand  pieces. 

Baron  de  Rothschild,  without  a  word,  turned  and  left  the 
room.  The  next  day  he  received  his  bust' — in  a  thousand  pieces — 
"  with  Sarah  Bernhardt's  compliments." 

The  story  became  common  property  and  Rothschild  never 
spoke  to  her  again.  She  remained  friends  with  others  of  the  same 
family,  however,  and  there  came  a  day  when  she  was  grateful 
for  their  help. 

Sarah  fitted  up  a  magnificent  studio  near  the  Place  de  Clichy, 
in  the  avenue  now  chiefly  distinguished  for  the  number  of  night 
establishments  which  grace — or  disgrace — it.  It  was  a  large, 
bare  place,  with  immense  windows,  several  step-ladders,  and  a 
divan  covered  with  skins.  For  principal  adornment  it  had  a 
single,  magnificent,  white  bear  skin,  which  was  the  first  present 
Sarah  received  from  Georges  Clairin,  the  painter  and  mural 
decorator — of  whom  more  anon.  He  had  been  her  admirer 
for  years  but  it  was  not  until  1879  that  she  yielded  to  his  per- 
sistent pleadings  and  became  really  intimate  with  him. 

The  place  was  littered  with  scraps  of  plaster,  old  frames, 
cross-trees,  brushes,  supports,  mallets,  chisels  and  other  para- 
phernalia of  the  sculptor  and  painter. 

An  old  man  who  had  once  been  an  actor  of  repute,  but  who  had 
been  reduced  to  poverty  and  disgrace  by  morphine,  was  employed 
as  a  sort  of  general  factotum.  He  would  be  an  exemplary  servant 
for  a  month  or  so,  and  then  the  drug  passion  would  seize  him  and 
he  would  disappear  for  a  week,  during  which  the  studio  became 
littered  with  all  kinds  of  refuse,  from  broken  statues — which  had 

196  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

been  thrown  violently  to  the  floor  by  Sarah  in  fits  of  dissatisfaction, 
despondency  or  rage — to  empty  bottles  of  champagne  and 
liqueurs,  with  which  she  was  wont  to  entertain  her  guests. 

About  this  time,  if  my  memory  serves  me  right,  occurred  the 
famous  duel  fought  by  Richard  O'Monroy,  the  writer  in  La 
Vie  Parisienne,  and  Edouard  de  Lagrenee,  a  distinguished  young 
diplomat,  whose  infatuation  for  Sarah  was  like  that  of  so  many 
other  men — terrific  while  it  lasted,  but  of  brief  duration, 

Sarah  was  in  the  habit  of  giving  "  soirees  amusantes  "  in 
her  atelier  on  nights  when  she  was  not  billed  to  act  at  the  Comedie. 

These  soirees  consisted  for  the  most  part  of  conversation, 
recitals  by  poetic  friends  of  the  actress,  gossip,  and  sometimes 
dancing.  They  were,  in  the  word  of  Paris,  "  tres  a  la 

Sarah's  invitations  were  much  sought  after,  but  she  never 
sent  a  formal  one.  It  was  understood  that  friends  of  hers  were 
always  welcome,  and  welcome  also  to  bring  any  friends  of  their 
own.  Thus  Sophie  Croizette — who,  despite  her  rivalry  with 
Sarah,  had  remained  a  friend  outside  of  theatrical  hours — appeared 
about  nine  o'clock  one  night,  dragging  by  the  hand  a  pale, 
anaemic-looking  youngster,  who  appeared  to  be  extremely  bashful 
and  intensely  desirous  of  being  elsewhere, 

"  See  what  I  have  caught  !  "  cried  Sophie,  advancing  into 
the  atelier  and  dragging  her  young  man  after  her.  But  the 
"  catch  "  suddenly  twisted  his  hand  from  hers  and,  without  a 
word,  turned  tail  and  ran  away.  They  rushed  after  him,  to  see 
his  coat  tails  flying  down  the  street  fifty  yards  away. 

"  Who,"  demanded  Sarah,  when  she  had  finished  laughing, 
"  was  that  extraordinary  person  ?  " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Theodora. 

p.  igf"'. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  197 

"  That,"  answered  Sophie  Croizette,  "  was  a  Consul  of  France 
— and  he  is  madly  in  love  with  you  !  " 

Sarah  looked  at  her,  astonished. 

"  But,"  she  said,  "  I  have  never  seen  him  before  !  " 

"  He  has  seen  every  performance  you  have  given  for  nearly 
six  months,  since  he  returned  from  Rome,"  explained  Sophie. 

"  But  who  is  he  ?  "  demanded  Sarah,  enormously  intrigued, 
but  uncertain  whether  to  be  pleased  or  to  be  angry. 

"  He  is  a  young  Republican,  a  protege  of  MacMahon,  and  was 
made  a  consul.  His  family  is  a  very  distinguished  one  ;  you 
will  find  it  in  the  Liste  des  Families,"  explained  Mile.  Croizette. 
"  He  is  also  a  poet,  and  has  written  some  fine  verses  about  you, 
which  he  has  been  afraid  to  send.  He  is  the  most  bashful  man 
in  all  Paris  !  " 

This  was  enough  to  excite  the  interest  of  Sarah  Bernhardt ! 

A  few  nights  later  she  perceived  the  bashful  one  in  the  back 
seat  of  a  box  near  the  stage.  She  smiled  at  him,  but  the  poor 
young  man  was  too  timid  to  smile  back,  Sarah  determined  that, 
by  hook  or  by  crook,  she  would  get  to  know  him.  He  had,  she 
decided,  a  face  of  singular  beauty. 

From  inquiries  she  made  here  and  there  among  her  friends, 
she  found  that  he  had  served  in  the  war,  and  that  he  had 
an  enviable  record  for  bravery.  It  is  thus  with  many  timid, 
unassuming  men. 

De  Lagrenee  was  a  man  of  noble  artistic  temperament,  very 
much  the  idealist  and  the  passionate  lover — but  so  far  he  had  done 
his  passionate  loving  at  a  distance. 

"  Who  is  the  remarkable-looking  man  with  the  decoration  in 
that  box  ?  "  she  asked  Mounet-Sully,  who  was  pla5dng  with  her. 

198         Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  That  is  Edouard  de  Lagrcnee,"  answered  Mounet-SuUy. 
"  He  is  very  distinguished  in  the  diplomatic  service," 

During  the  first  entr'acte,  through  a  hole  in  the  curtain,  she 
pointed  out  de  Lagrenee  to  a  call-boy. 

"  You  see  that  man  ?  "  she  said.     "  Send  him  to  me  !  " 

But  her  messenger  returned  without  him. 

"  Monsieur  thanks  Mile.  Sarah  Bernhardt  for  her  courtesy,  but 
begs  to  state  that  he  is  a  worshipper  on  a  lower  plane,  and  would 
not  dare  to  approach  the  altar  of  his  goddess  !  "  was  the  quaint 
reply  of  the  diplomat. 

Sarah  did  not  know  whether  to  be  offended  or  pleased.  In 
any  case  she  was  immensely  interested,  and  determined  at  once 
to  bring  about  an  occasion  on  which  de  Lagrenee  would  be  obliged 
to  meet  her. 

Accordingly  she  made  inquiries  and  found  that  he  was  in 
the  habit  of  frequenting  the  Salon  held  by  Madame  Lobligeois 
in  her  house  in  the  Avenue  des  Champs  Elysees — a  villa  set  back 
in  what  were  then  woods — which  had  become  a  rendezvous  of 
the  intellectual  set.  Through  her  old  friend  Duquesnel,  still 
director  of  the  Odeon,  she  arranged  to  be  invited  to  one  of  these 
exclusive  affairs,  and  that  her  intention  to  be  present  should  be 
kept  a  secret. 

The  afternoon  came.  De  Lagrenee,  according  to  his  custom, 
was  entertaining  the  company  at  the  house  of  Mme.  Lobligeois 
with  his  views  on  artistic  subjects,  when  the  door  opened  without 
warning  and  Sarah  swept  in,  followed  by  that  cohort  of  faithful, 
gay  young  idolators  whom  she  termed  her  "  performing  seals." 

As  had  been  arranged  beforehand,  Duquesnel  hastened  for- 
ward and,  on  seeing  de  Lagrenee,  cried  : 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  199 

"  Ah,  my  dear  fellow,  allow  me  to  present  you  to  Her  Majesty 
the  Queen  of  Paris  !  " 

There  being  no  avenue  of  escape,  de  Lagrenee,  who,  although 
genuinely  timid  and  embarassed,  was  none  the  less  a  gentleman, 
found  himself  pushed  forward  into  the  presence  of  the  woman 
whom  he  had,  for  so  long  and  from  such  a  distance,  adored. 

Sarah  at  once  drew  him  aside  and  began  an  animated,  if  one- 
sided, conversation.  De  Lagrenee  was  too  reticent  or  too  bash- 
ful to  say  much  ;  but  under  Sarah's  friendly  smile  he  gradually 
gained  courage,  with  the  result  that  when  she  gave  him  an  invita- 
tion to  visit  her  in  her  dressing-room  and  afterwards  to  sup  alone 
with  her  at  her  flat,  he  stammered  his  acceptance,  overwhelmed 
with  a  mixture  of  confusion  and  joy. 

From  then  on  the  affair  followed  the  customary  course. 
Sarah  made  excessive  demands  on  de  Lagrenee.  She  insisted 
that  he  should  take  her  everywhere  and  be  seen  with  her  in  public 
restaurants  and  in  society.  From  a  distant  worshipper,  he  became 
her  abject  slave.  People  called  him  "  Sarah's  messenger  boy," 
and  "  Sarah's  little  dog."  Never  a  day  passed  without  a  mass 
of  fresh  flowers  being  sent  to  her  dressing-room  by  the  young 

At  length  the  scandalous  rumour  that  he  was  Sarah's  latest 
conquest  reached  the  ears  of  his  aristocratic  parents,  who  belonged 
to  a  set  which  severely  disapproved  of  the  stage  and  everyone 
connected  with  it .  Aghast,  they  sent  for  their  son  and  commanded 
him  to  sever  his  connection  with  the  actress  at  once. 

By  nature  a  dutiful  son,  he  agreed,  although  not  without 
considerable  heart-pangs,  as  may  be  imagined.  When  Sarah 
heard  about  his  pledge,  however,  and  the  arguments  that  had 

200  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

exacted  it,  she  went  to  the  house  of  his  parents  in  a  fury,  insisted 
on  admittance,  created  a  terrible  scene,  and  frightened  and 
astonished  them  both  beyond  measure.  Finally  when  de 
Lagrenee  appeared,  she  overwhelmed  his  halting  objections  and 
carried  him  off  with  her  in  her  carriage. 

A  week  later  de  Lagrenee  was  directed  to  join  the  French 
consular  staff  at  St,  Petersburg,  that  being  the  city  the  farthest 
away  from  Sarah  that  his  parents  could  think  of.  And  the 
romance  was  effectually  stopped.  Before  he  left  for  Russia, 
however,  an  incident  occurred  which  nearly  cost  de  Lagrenee 
his  life. 

Richard  O'Monroy,  besides  writing  his  weekly  chronicles  in 
La  Vie  Parisienne,  was  one  of  those  society  hangers-on  who  love 
to  boast  of  their  conquests  of  women.  He  used  to  do  this,  not 
only  in  allegedly  witty  conversation,  but,  in  veiled  terms,  in 
the  salacious  weekly  to  which  he  contributed. 

He  chose  this  moment  to  relate — ^using  assumed  names,  of 
course,  but  with  descriptions  which  revealed  better  than  mere 
names  could  have  done — how,  in  a  quarter  of  an  hour,  he  had 
made  the  conquest  of  Sarah  Bernhardt  ! 

Sarah  was  terribly  offended,  not  so  much  at  the  way  the  article 
was  written,  but  at  the  idea  that  any  man  could  dare  to  claim 
that  he  had  "  conquered  "  her — and  in  fifteen  minutes  at  that  ! 

Hurrying  to  de  Lagrenee,  she  laid  the  article  before  him.  The 
young  consular  official  was  furious,  and  sent  an  immediate  challenge 
to  O'Monroy,  despite  the  fact  that  the  chronicler  was  a  notoriously 
expert  swordsman,  while  de  Lagrenee  was  small,  physically 
weak,  and  no  fencer  at  all. 

The  duel  was  arranged  according  to  the  code,  and  was  fixed 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  201 

to  take  place  in  the  Bois  de  Boulogne  one  morning  at  five  o'clock. 
Sarah  watched  it  from  the  closed  windows  of  her  coach.  Neither 
antagonist  knew  that  she  was  there,  the  coach  being  hidden 
behind  some  trees  in  an  allee  usually  reserved  for  riders. 

As  was  to  be  expected,  de  Lagrenee  was  overwhelmed  from  the 
outset,  and  in  less  than  two  minutes  he  was  severely  wounded  in 
the  thigh. 

Seeing  him  lying  bleeding  on  the  ground,  Sarah  would  have 
run  to  him  and  covered  him  with  caresses,  but  she  was  prevented 
by  her  companions. 

During  his  convalescence,  she  was  barred  from  the  sick- 
room and  had  to  content  herself  with  daily  letters  and  flowers. 

As  soon  as  he  recovered,  he  was  ordered  to  his  post  at  St. 
Petersburg,  and  the  short-lived  romance  was  over. 

Sarah  never  forgot  de  Lagrenee,  and  for  several  years  she  kept 
up  a  correspondence  with  him.  His  letters  which,  according  to 
her  custom,  she  destroyed— were  full  of  tender,  poetic  messages, 
pleading  love  of  and  faith  in  her.  A  man  less  fitted  to  be  a 
diplomat  probably  never  existed.  Sarah  always  spoke  of  him 
to  me  in  terms  of  genuine  affection. 

202  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


Nowadays  almost  anything  can  be  said  about  a  theatrical  star 
and  her  manager  is  glad.  He  knows  that  the  more  she  is  written 
about,  the  more  she  is  talked  about,  the  larger  will  be  the  receipts 
of  the  theatre  at  which  she  is  playing.  Even  the  ancient  and 
eminently  respectable  Comedie  Frangaise  has  been  obliged  to 
accept  this  point  of  view — though  not  without  some  pangs,  I 
imagine.  Witness  the  celebrated  escapade  of  Mile.  Cecile  Sorel, 
great  and  exquisite  interpreter  of  Moliere,  who  two  years  ago  visited 
a  public  gallery  and  smashed  an  uncomplimentary  "  portrait  " 
of  her  by  Bib,  a  young  cartoonist.  The  press  of  the  world  was 
full  of  the  incident,  but,  so  far  as  is  known,  the  actress  was  not 
hauled  over  the  coals  by  the  administration  of  the  Comedie 

But  in  the  seventies  and  eighties  a  different  view  was  taken 
of  such  matters.  An  artiste  was  supposed  to  be  contented 
with  reviews  of  the  plays  she  appeared  in,  and  the  Comedie 
Frangaise  especially  deplored  any  effort  on  the  part  of  an  individual 
actress  to  make  herself  known  by  any  other  method  than  the 
excellence  of  her  acting. 

Thus  it  may  be  imagined  that  Sarah  was  rapidly  making 
enemies  for  herself.  One  could  not  open  a  newspaper  or  a  mag- 
azine without  reading  some  article  devoted  to  her,  without  seeing 
an  account  of  some  escapade  of  hers.     Sarah  herself  has  said  in 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  203 

her  "Memoirs"  that  she  regretted  this  publicity,  without  being 
able  to  suppress  it,  and  that  she  never  read  the  newspapers. 
Perhaps  she  may  be  pardoned  this  slight  lapse  of  memory. 

Many  times  I  have  found  her  in  the  morning,  her  bed  covered 
with  marked  copies  of  publications  sent  her  by  friends,  and  by 
writers  of  paragraphs  about  her.  She  gloried  in  them.  She 
did  not  care  what  people  said  about  her,  so  long  as  they  said 
something.  She  herself,  to  my  certain  knowledge,  inspired  many 
of  the  most  far-fetched  stories. 

When  she  found  that  the  cartoonists  had  seized  upon  her 
slender  figure  and  fuzzy  hair  as  heaven-sent  objects  on  which  to 
exercise  their  talents,  she  wore  clothes  that  accentuated  her 
slimness,  and  her  hair  became  more  studiously  unruly  than  ever. 
When  she  found  that  every  foolish  thing  she  did  was  immediately 
commented  upon  in  a  score  of  newspapers,  hostile  as  well  as 
friendly,  she  spent  hours  thinking  out  new  escapades,  and  made 
foolishness  an  art. 

She  was  the  first  actress  who  really  understood  the  value  of 

Genius  can  be  as  eccentric  as  it  pleases,  but  eccentricity 
without  genius  becomes  a  boomerang,  to  hurl  fools  into  oblivion. 

Had  Sarah  been  a  lesser  woman  all  this  publicity  would  have 
ruined  her,  but  she  really  was  a  genius,  and  not  only  possessed 
a  talent  for  self-advertisement,  but  had  a  genuine  passion  for 
work.  People  who  had  read  dozens  of  idiotic  stories  about  her 
would  visit  the  theatre  prepared  to  scoff — but  they  remained  to 
applaud  her  frantically. 

She  was  bigger  than  all  the  publicity  she  obtained.  Her  art 
justified  all.     But   her  manager,  Perrin,  and  the  committee  of 

204  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

the  Comedie  could  not  see  things  that  way.  They  were  horrified 
and  disgusted  at  the  notoriety  that  had  descended  on  the  vener- 
able House  of  Moliere,  as  the  result  of  the  follies  of  their  star. 

Perrin  used  to  remonstrate  violently  with  her. 

"  You  are  a  disgrace  to  the  theatre  and  to  your  art !  "  he 
said  in  my  hearing  on  one  occasion.  "  You  will  ruin  the  Comedie 
with  your  insanities  !  " 

"  I  will  resign,  then  !  "  said  Sarah  promptly.  And  Perrin 
immediately  became  contrite,  for  Sarah  drew  more  people  to  the 
box-office  than  any  two  artists  the  Comedie  possessed,  even  in- 
cluding Mounet-SuUy  and  Sophie  Croizette. 

Louis  Giffard  was  then  one  of  the  lions  of  Paris.  Giffard 
was  a  balloonist,  and  balloon  ascensions  were  the  clou  of  the  1878 
Exhibition.  Giffard  had  long  been  an  admirer  of  Sarah's,  and 
as  he  started  one  of  his  ascents  he  threw  a  wreath  of  flowers  at 
her  as  she  stood  in  a  little  group  of  spectators.  For  this  gentle 
act  of  courtesy  she  invited  him  to  dine  with  her. 

"  Tiens,  Sarah  !  "  said  Clairin,  during  this  festivity,  "  there 
is  something  you  have  not  done  yet — you  have  not  gone  up  in  a 
balloon  !  " 

"  She  has  her  head  always  in  the  clouds !  "  grumpily  put  in 
Alexandre  Dumas,  junior,  who  had  had  many  a  lively  passage 
of  arms  with  his  most  unruly  interpreter.  But  Sarah  took  up 
the  suggestion  immediately. 

Turning  enthusiastically  to  Giffard,  she  asked  :  "  It  is  true  ? 
Can  you  take  me  up  in  your  balloon  ?  " 

"  It  would  be  the  crowning  point  of  my  career  !  "  responded 
Giffard  gallantly. 

"  When  can  we  go  ?  "  asked  Sarah,  all  excitement. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  205 

"  To-morrow  morning,  if  you  wish  !  " 

Sarah  seized  Georges  Clairin  by  the  arm.  "  And  you,  Georges 
• — will  you  come  into  the  clouds  with  me,  too  ?  " 

"  He  would  be  a  poor  poet  who  would  not  follow  an  angel  into 
her  natural  element  !  "  answered  Clairin,  kissing  her. 

Everyone  present  was  sworn  to  strict  secrecy,  and  the  next 
morning,  at  seven  o'clock,  we  trooped  out  to  the  space  just  out- 
side the  city  gates  where  Giffard's  balloon  was  in  readiness.  He 
had  been  there  since  dawn,  making  his  preparations,  and  when  we 
arrived  everything  was  ready. 

Sarah,  as  she  started  to  climb  into  the  balloon,  turned  and 
saw  me  crying. 

"  What  is  the  matter,  ma  petite  Therese  ?  "  she  asked,  putting 
her  arms  around  me.     I  said  that  I  wanted  to  go,  too. 

"  There  is  no  room,"  said  Giffard.  "  You  shall  make  an 
ascent  with  me  another  time." 

"  But  I  want  to  go  with  Sarah  !  "  I  wailed. 

Everyone  laughed,  and  Gustave  Dore,  the  illustrator,  caught 
me  up  in  his  arms.  "  But,  ma  cherie,"  he  remonstrated,  "  sup- 
pose the  balloon  falls  and  you  are  all  killed  ?  " 

"  I  would  not  care,  so  long  as  I  was  with  my  Sarah  !  "  I  replied 

There  was  a  roar  of  laughter,  and  then  Sarah  was  hoisted  into 
the  basket  by  Clairin  and  Giffard,  both  of  whom  mounted  after 
her.  There  was  a  shout  of  "  Cast  off,"  and  the  next  thing  I  knew 
the  balloon  was  hundreds  of  feet  above  us,  the  three  in  the  basket 
shrilling  some  indistinguishable  words  of  farewell. 

Somebody  pointed  out  the  balloon  to  Perrin,  who  was  on  his 
way  to  his  office. 

2o6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  There  goes  your  pensionnaire !  "  he  was  told. 

Perrin  at  first  did  not  understand. 

"  Sarah  Bernhardt  is  in  that  balloon  !  " 

Perrin  angrily  rushed  to  the  theatre,  called  together  a  special 
meeting  of  the  committee  of  administration,  announced  the  news, 
and  said  that  he  had  decided  to  fine  Sarah  a  thousand  francs. 

"  I  have  had  enough  of  her  imbecilities  !  "  he  declared. 

The  balloon  did  not  fly  very  far  and  came  down  seventy  miles 
from  Paris  ;  and  that  evening  the  three  aeronauts  were  back 
again,  Sarah  delighted  beyond  words  with  her  experience. 

In  the  morning  she  was  informed  by  Perrin  that  she  was  to 
be  fined.  Sarah  flew  into  a  rage,  went  home,  wrote  out  her  resigna- 
tion, and  sent  it  to  Perrin  by  a  messenger.  As  usual,  the  threat 
prevailed.  The  fine  was  withdrawn,  and  so  was  Sarah's  resigna- 
tion.    But  Perrin  did  not  forgive  her  for  a  long  time. 

For  a  year  or  more  it  was  open  war  between  Sarah  Bernhardt 
and  the  directors  of  the  Comedie.  Most  of  the  men  in  the  com- 
pany sided  against  Sarah.  She  often  complained  that  her  male 
associates  of  the  stage  were  far  more  jealous  than  the  women,  and 
that  they  would  stoop  to  greater  meannesses  to  revenge  themselves. 
They  caused  her  so  many  petty  annoyances  that  she  finally  made 
up  her  mind  to  leave  the  Comedie. 

The  idea  grew  on  her.  She  felt,  as  she  expressed  it,  a  prisoner 
in  a  cage  of  lions.  Not  only  did  they  want  to  control  her  life  in 
the  theatre,  but  her  private  life  was  subject  to  their  interference 
as  well. 

Time  and  time  again  she  threatened  to  resign.  Finally,  to 
appease  her,  they  had  to  promise  to  make  her  a  "  full  member  " 
of  the  company — an  honour  not  usually  given  till  after  fifteen  or 

Sarah   Bernhardt  in  Hamlet. 
From  the  well-known  painting  by  Louis  Besnard. 

Photo,  Henri  Manuel.} 

p.  202. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  207 

twenty  years  with  the  Comedie — and  accordingly  raise  her  salary. 
But  still  she  was  discontented.  She  was  making  20,000  francs  a 
year,  and  spending  50,000. 

She  decided  that  space  was  too  restricted  in  her  flat  and 
resolved  to  build  for  herself  a  private  house.  Private  houses  in 
Paris,  then  as  now,  were  the  property  only  of  the  wealthy. 
Over  nine  hundred  out  of  every  thousand  people  live  in  flats. 

She  chose  a  magnificent  plot  on  the  rue  Fortuny,  in  what  is 
now  the  exclusive  residential  section  of  the  Plaine  Monceau,  but 
which  then  was  practically  a  desert.  Felix  Escalier,  a  famous 
architect,  was  called  into  consultation  by  the  actress,  and  together 
they  designed  a  three-story  house  of  noble  dimensions  and  beauti- 
ful lines.     Bordering  it  on  two  sides  was  to  be  a  spacious  garden. 

Sarah  could  scarcely  contain  herself  when  the  plans  were 
finally  approved  and  the  building  begun.  The  work  seemed  to 
her  interminable.  To  hasten  construction,  a  call  was  sent  out  for 
more  workmen,  but  none  were  to  be  had,  so  a  band  of  her  student 
friends  took  off  their  coats,  donned  the  white  aprons  of  masons, 
and  gave  their  services  free,  joyful  to  be  of  use. 

In  a  little  under  a  year  the  house  was  finished,  and  Sarah  ran- 
sacked the  shops  of  Paris  for  furniture  and  appointments, 

Georges  Clairin,  madly  in  love  with  her,  undertook  to  paint 
four  mural  decorations,  the  largest  of  which  was  in  the  reception 
hall.  It  represented  nude  figures  gambolling  on  fleecy  clouds, 
and  made  an  enormous  sensation. 

The  sensation  came  from  the  fact  that  the  head  of  the  central 
figure  was  undoubtedly  that  of  Sarah,  and  there  was  considerable 
discussion  as  to  whether  she  had  posed  for  the  entire  body.  Clairin 
finally  settled  the  argument. 

2o8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  A  professional  model  posed  for  the  body,"  he  said.  "  Sarah 
is  much  too  thin." 

The  explanation  satisfied  everybody,  for  there  was  no  gain- 
saying the  fact  that  Sarah  was  abnormally  thin. 

But  the  gossipy  weeklies  seized  on  the  affair  with  avidity,  and 
Sarah's  attachment  to  Georges  Clairin  soon  became  public  property. 
Of  course,  both  were  tremendously  criticised.  Their  denials  were 
not  listened  to.  Sarah  was  dumbfounded  at  the  venom  of  some 
of  the  attacks. 

"  These  canaille  !  "  she  said,  contempt ously  referring  to  her 
critics.  "  They  say  that  I  am  selfish — well,  what  woman  is  not  ? 
They  say  that  I  am  greedy — but  did  you  ever  know  me  to  have  a 
spare  franc  I  could  call  my  own  ?  They  say  I  am  cold  and  haughty, 
but  that  is  because  I  will  not  suffer  the  presence  of  fools  !  They 
say  that  I  am  indiscreet' — it  is  they  who  are  indiscreet  !  They 
say  that  I  have  never  really  loved,  that  I  am  cruel  and  ambitious, 
that  I  pull  men  down  and  climb  over  their  bodies  on  my  ascent 
to  fame — it  is  not  true  !  I  am  ambitious  ;  yes,  and  I  am  jealous 
of  a  success  won  by  hard  work  ;  but  I  am  haughty  only  to  those 
whom  I  despise,  and  I  am  cruel^ — never  !  It  is  they  who  are  cruel 
to  me  !  " 

"  They  delight  in  sticking  knives  into  me  !  "  she  declared  on 
another  occasion. 

"  I  hate  them  !  "  she  said  again,  passionately.  "  I  hate  them  ! 
They  tear  down  gods  !  All  Paris  is  my  enemy  and  all  Paris 
is  at  my  feet." 

On  other  occasions  she  was  merely  scornful. 

"  Let  them  talk,  these  little  people  !  "  she  would  say.  "  They 
think  they  are  throwing  stones  at  me,  but  every  stone  goes  to 
help  in  building  the  structure  of  my  success  !  " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  209 

And  it  was  true.  The  more  people  ranted  against  Sarah,  the 
greater  she  became.  She  was  by  now  the  greatest  feminine 
personahty — I  say  it  in  all  seriousness — that  France  had  known 
since  Joan  of  Arc. 

Her  romance  with  Georges  Clairin  was  a  beautiful  thing.  She 
was,  I  am  convinced,  genuinely  in  love  with  the  great  painter. 

She  spent  all  her  afternoons  for  weeks  in  Clairin's  studio. 
Sometimes  they  would  work  silently  for  hours,  side  by  side, 
scarcely  exchanging  a  word.  At  others  they  would  abandon 
work  and  sit  and  talk  to  each  other,  oblivious  of  their  surround- 
ings. Sarah  inspired  many  of  Clairin's  paintings,  and  was  the 
model  for  several. 

Once  I  accompanied  her  to  Clairin's  studio.  It  was  a  great 
room,  bare  of  ornament  except  for  easels  and  pictures  that  were 
scattered  about.  Over  a  huge  sofa  hung  a  white  bear  skin,  similar 
to  the  one  Clairin  had  given  to  Sarah. 

Clairin  was  not  there  when  we  arrived,  and  Sarah  astonished 
me  by  crossing  to  the  sofa  and  proceeding  to  take  off  her  shoes 
and  stockings. 

"  Whatever  are  you  doing  ?  "  I  demanded. 

"  He  is  going  to  paint  my  feet,"  she  answered,  and  indicated 
a  large  unfinished  canvas,  representing  Sarah  as  a  Gypsy  boy, 
in  rags,  wielding  a  mouth  organ.  A  tame  bear  danced  to  the 
music,  and  a  greasy  Bohemian,  presumably  the  boy's  father,  turned 
the  handle  of  a  street  piano. 

Where  this  canvas  went  I  never  knew.     It  was  not  exhibited, 

as  far  as  I  am  aware.     Some  said  that  Sarah  destroyed  it  in  a 

fit  of  rage,  when  she  quarrelled  with  Clairin.     Her  romances 

invariably  had  their  climax  in  these  terrific  disputes. 


210  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

When  the  artist  entered,  clad  in  a  green  velvet  jacket,  Sarah 
ran  to  him  crying  :    "  Mon  petit  Geogotte  !    Mon  petit  Geogotte  !  " 

She  fondled  him,  kissing  his  face  and  long  hair,  scolding  him 
for  spots  of  paint  on  his  black  tie,  and  using  little  endearing  ad- 
jectives that  were  a  fresh  revelation  to  me  of  Sarah,  the  lover, 

Clairin  showed  her  a  painting  in  water-colours  which  he  had 
done  while  visiting  at  Fontainebleau.  Taking  a  crayon,  he  wrote 
on  the  back  :    "To  the  Perfect  Woman,"  and  handed  it  to  her. 

The  next  day  she  chose  a  little  statue  she  had  herself  modelled, 
and  sent  it  to  him,  with  the  inscription  :  "To  my  perfect  man, 
from  Sara,"  spelling  her  name  without  the  "  h,"  as  she  sometimes 

Clairin  presented  her  with  fifteen  different  paintings,  all  of 
which  she  kept  until  the  end  of  her  life.     Five  were  of  herself. 

These  paintings  were  :  "A  Portrait  of  Alexandre  Dumas 
fils,"  signed  by  both  Clairin  and  Dumas  ;  "  Sarah  Bernhardt, 
Lecturer  "■ — this  was  done  as  recently  as  1914  ;  "  Sarah  Bernhardt 
as  Theodora  "  ;  "  Portrait  of  Charles  Gounod  "  ;  "  View  of 
Beg-Meil "  ;  "The  Toilet  of  Cupid  "  ;  "The  Fool  and  the  Skull  "  ; 
"  The  Attack  on  the  Fort  by  the  Blues  "  ;  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  as 
Cleopatra  "  ;  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  between  Comedy  and  Tragedy  "  ; 
"  Repose  on  a  Rock  "  ;  "  The  Stairway  in  the  Cliff  "  ;  "  The 
Virgin  of  Avila  "  ;  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  Theroigne  de  Meri- 
court  "  ;  "  Characters  of  Comedy."  The  last  was  a  sketch  in 
black-and-white . 

These  pictures,  all  of  which  were  signed  and  dedicated  to  Sarah 
by  Clairin,  fetched  unexpectedly  low  prices  at  the  Paris  sale  of 
her  effects  two  months  after  her  death.  One  was  sold  for  as  low 
as  160  francs — ^then  about  two  guineas — while  the  highest  price, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  211 

fifteen  hundred  francs,  was  paid  for  the  portrait  of  Sarah  as 
Theodora,  which  was  conceded  to  be  one  of  Clairin's  greatest 

Their  romance  lasted  for  several  months.  Then  came  the 
inevitable  rupture,  the  cause  of  which  nobody  knew,  and  Sarah 
left  for  a  tour  in  America,  while  Clairin  went  to  a  hermit-like 
seclusion  in  his  home  in  the  Midi. 

When  both  returned  to  Paris  they  were  no  longer  lovers,  but 
they  remained  very  good  friends,  and  Clairin,  until  he  died  shortly 
after  the  Armistice,  was  one  of  the  most  devoted  of  the  little  court 
surrounding  Sarah. 

He  was  frequently  a  visitor  at  her  house,  and  in  his  old  age 
spent  a  few  weeks  of  every  year  at  her  property  at  Belle  Isle, 
off  the  coast  of  Brittany. 

Clairin  was  a  year  older  than  Sarah  Bernhardt.  He  possessed 
a  nature  very  similar  to  hers. 

212  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


The  publication  of  Sarah's  book  "  Dans  les  Nuages,"  which  was 
at  once  a  defence  of  her  actions,  a  scornful  reply  to  her  critics  and 
a  picturesque  description  of  her  flight  in  the  balloon,  brought  down 
on  her  head  still  more  criticism,  and  still  further  admonishment 
from  M.  Perrin,  the  director  of  the  Comedie  Fran9aise. 

But  now  she  lived  a  monarch  in  a  little  world  apart.  Her 
art  while  on  the  stage  was  such  that  even  her  sternest  opponents 
were  obliged  to  hold  their  tongues  in  reluctant  admiration,  while 
she  now  openly  maintained  the  right  to  live  her  private  life  as 
she  pleased.  Every  protest  from  Perrin  brought  forth  the  haughty 
reply  that  if  he  was  dissatisfied  she  was  perfectly  willing  to  leave 
the  Comedie  Frangaise  for  ever.  What  made  him  powerless  in 
any  struggle  with  her  was  the  fact  that  the  Comedie  was  a 
government  institution,  and  that  Sarah  had  friends  in  very  high 

She  was  a  striking  figure  of  a  woman,  as  I  remember  her  at 
this  epoch. 

Her  extreme  slenderness,  accentuated  by  the  exaggerated 
lacing  of  the  clothes  she  wore,  contrived  to  give  her  the  impression 
of  height  ;  whereas  she  was  in  reality  no  taller  than  the  normal 
person.  Her  complexion  was  naturally  pale  from  her  anaemia — 
a  malady  which  had  persisted — but,  not  content  with  the  effect 
thus  achieved,  she  must  needs  paint  her  face  a  chalk  white, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  213 

relieved  only  by  the  slender  etching  of  her  widely-separated  eye- 
brows, and  by  a  pair  of  cleverly-reddened  lips.  Her  forehead 
was  high  and  arched,  and  her  hair  was  the  same  riotous  and  tangled 
mass  of  crinkled  confusion  which  had  made  her  remarkable  as  a 
child.  Her  eyes  were  the  singularly  lovely  blue  of  the  clear 
sky  just  after  the  dawn — light -coloured,  but  seemingly  of  illimit- 
able depth. 

When  she  was  serious,  they  would  be  downcast,  shielded  by 
long,  curving  lashes,  mysterious  and  almost  oriental  in  their 
pensive  languor.  When  she  was  interested,  they  would  snap  into 
life  with  an  extraordinary  vivacity  and  play  of  expression  ; 
when  she  was  angry,  which  was  often  enough,  actual  sparks  of 
blue  fire  seemed  to  dart  from  eyes  that  had  miraculously  grown 
into  two  large,  burning  pools  of  wrath.  No  man  I  ever  saw, 
except  Damala,  ever  long  withstood  the  challenge  of  those  eyes 
when  Sarah,  wistful  and  imperious,  desired  to  have  her  way. 

After  an  interview  with  her  and  an  ineffectual  attempt  to 
discipline  his  wilful  star,  Perrin  invariably  ended  his  lecture 
by  throwing  up  his  hands,  uttering  a  short  word  of  mingled  sup- 
plication and  terror,  and  escaping  into  an  inner  ofhce. 

Sarah  was  a  supreme  conversationalist.  I  never  knew  anyone 
her  match  in  ordinary  talk.  She  could  be  eloquent  on  fifty 
current  topics,  and  had  something  original  and  interesting  to 
say  about  all  of  them.  The  fact  that  she  could  hold  such  men  as 
Victor  Hugo,  Alexandre  Dumas  fils,  Georges  Clairin,  Gustave  Dore, 
and  others  like  them,  enthralled  by  the  sheer  power  of  her  person- 
aUty  as  partly  expressed  by  her  skill  in  conversation,  is  proof 
enough  of  her  many-sided  genius. 

She  was  the  first  great  feminine  adherent  to  the  capricious 

214  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

cult  of  "  je  m'en  fichisme,"  which  is  best  interpreted  as  an  abso- 
lute disregard  of  convention  and  an  existence  studiousty  carried 
along  the  lines  of  "  the  individual  before  the  crowd." 

Sarah  was  beautiful ;  she  was  brilliant.  She  was  a  genius  ;  she 
was  a  hard-worker  ;  she  was  prodigious  in  her  handling  of  men — 
she  seldom  had  less  than  a  dozen  famous  ones  around  her — and 
her  charm,  as  well  as  her  antipathetic  side,  was  due  to  her  sublime 
belief  in  herself  above  everything  and  everybody. 

Perrin,  Got  and  other  theatrical  celebrities  used  to  beg  and 
plead  with  her  to  dress  in  quieter  and  less  conspicuous  ways 
which  would  be  more  in  conformity  with  the  fashion. 

"La  mode!"  she  exclaimed  indifferently.  "  Je  m'en  fiche 
de  la  mode  !    Let  fashion  follow  me  !  " 

And  frequently  fashion  did.  Sarah  was  thin,  narrow-chested, 
bony  in  places  and  walked  with  a  stride.  The  fashion  was  for 
plump  women,  of  rounded  and  gracious  line.  Sarah  remained 
totally  indifferent  to  the  fashion,  and  within  a  few  years  she  found 
herself  a  leader  of  the  mode,  with  plumpness  and  bouffonerie  beating 
a  protesting  retreat. 

When  she  was  forty,  her  arms  had  grown  so  thin  that  they  had 
to  be  concealed,  even  with  evening  dress,  so  she  invented  the 
shoulder-length  glove,  which  immediately  jumped  into  fashion. 

She  launched  several  kinds  of  corsets,  one  of  which  still  bears 
her  name.  Her  footwear  was  seized  on  and  copied  extensively. 
She  was  the  first  woman  in  France  to  wear  high  leather  buttoned 
boots  with  an  ordinary  street  dress. 

She  was  the  first  woman  to  bid  her  dressmaker  insert  jewels 
in  her  slippers.  She  was  the  first  woman  to  wear  ostrich  plumes 
as  an  ornament  to  her  evening  coiffure.     She  was  the  first  woman 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I    Knew  Her  215 

audaciously  to  defy  convention,  and  receive  her  friends  in  her 
painter's  garb  of  silken  pyjamas  ! 

She  did  this,  she  did  that,  she  did  anything  she  pleased. 
Whenever  anybody  started  a  great  outcry  against  her,  others  would 
shrug  their  shoulders  and  exclaim,  "  Mais,  c'est  Sarah  I "  She  was 
Sarah.  That  was  answer  enough.  If  ever  a  woman  in  France  has 
been  a  law  unto  herself,  it  was  Sarah  at  that  time — a  whole  lexicon 
of  law,  in  fact. 

Naturally,  she  got  into  numerous  scrapes.  She  was  thrice 
sued  for  debt,  as  a  result  of  her  lavish  expenditure  during  the 
building  of  her  house  in  the  rue  Fortuny.  Whenever  she  saw 
anything  she  liked,  she  could  not  rest  until  she  had  acquired  it. 
Her  salary  at  the  Comedie  was  only  20,000  francs  a  year^ — only 
£800,  even  at  that  time^yet  with  this,  and  the  small  sums  left 
her  by  her  father  and  by  several  relatives,  she  managed  to  live 
in  a  style  and  with  an  ostentation  surpassed  by  but  few  persons 
of  her  age. 

The  furniture  in  her  house  had  been  acquired  absolutely 
regardless  of  cost,  and  a  lot  of  it  was  taken  away  again  when  she 
did  not  pay  for  it.  Dealers  were  glad  to  sell  things  to  her,  and  to 
take  their  money  as  and  when  she  paid  them,  for  the  fact  that 
Sarah  Bernhardt  had  bought  an  article  was  certain  to  start  a  fad 
for  it. 

Her  dresses,  her  hats  and  her  shoes  never  cost  her  anything. 
In  later  years  I  even  heard  it  stated  that  her  dressmaker  actually 
paid  her  to  wear  his  creations  !  It  was  a  triumph  for  any  dealer 
to  be  able  to  say,  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  bought  one  like  that,"  or, 
"  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  wearing  one  like  that  yesterday,"  or, 
"  Sarah  Bernhardt  has  one  in  her  dining-room." 

2i6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

The  mural  decorations  and  the  works  of  art  in  her  house, 
fortunately,  did  not  cost  Sarah  anything.  They  were  mostly 
gifts  of  such  great  friends  as  Georges  Clairin,  Louise  Abbema — 
of  whose  paintings,  when  she  died,  Sarah  possessed  more  than 
eighty — Sir  Edward  Burne- Jones — ^who  had  been  caught  in  the 
siege  of  Paris,  and  had  then  met  and  fallen  captive  to  Sarah — 
Ernest  Duez,  Theodore  Fantin-Latour,  Maxime  Guyon,  Hector 
Giacomelli,  Rene  Raoul  Griffon,  Graham  Robertson,  Luc  Olivier 
Merson,  Germain  Fabien  Brest,  John  Lewis  Brown,  Robert 
Fleury,  Vastagh  Gezah,  Alfred  Stevens,  and  many  other  great 
and  famous  artists  of  the  brush. 

Most  of  the  above-mentioned  persons  frequented  her  house. 
I  have  seen  a  dozen  famous  painters  and  six  or  seven  great  authors 
aU  listening  to  Sarah  together — and  finding  joy  in  it.  She  ruled 
her  little  court  with  a  rod  of  iron,  but  she  wrapped  the  rod  in 
silk.  Victor  Hugo,  watching  her  at  work  in  her  studio  on  one 
occasion,  said  : 

"  Ah  !    madame,  how  I  wish  I  could  paint !  " 

"  But  you  can  !  "  replied  Sarah. 

"No,"  said  Hugo. 

"  Tu  es  ridicule!"  responded  Sarah.  "Anyone  who  can 
write  or  who  can  act  can  paint  if  he  tries  !  " 

Then  and  there  Sarah  constituted  herself  his  teacher,  with  the 
result  that  Hugo  became  an  extremely  creditable  artist,  chiefly 
with  pen-and-ink.  His  chief  delight  was  in  sketching-tours, 
which  he  undertook  with  Sarah  during  her  rare  holidays' — tours 
in  which  Clairin  and  Dore  would  generally  also  take  part.  It  was 
a  novel  and  extraordinary  sight  to  see  these  three  wonderful 
men  and  this  single  eccentric  woman  set  forth  together  on  foot 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  217 

from  the  gates  of  Paris,  huge  sketch-books  under  their 

But  things  were  fast  approaching  their  inevitable  climax 
at  the  Comedie  Frangaise. 

Perrin  and  his  committee  had  entered  into  a  contract  with 
Messrs.  John  Hollingshead  and  Mayer  for  a  six  weeks'  French 
repertory  season  at  the  Gaiety  Theatre  in  London.  The  contract 
called  for  the  appearance  in  the  English  capital  of  most  of  the 
stars  of  the  Comedie,  including  Sarah  Bernhardt,  Sophie 
Croizette,  Marie  Lloyd,  Mounet-Sully,  Coquelin  and  Got. 

Sarah  was  afire  with  excitement  at  the  idea  of  playing  before 
a  foreign  audience,  but  a  difficulty  that  seemed  insurmountable 
presented  itself. 

Sarah  was  still  only  a  part  societaire.  An  actress  enters  the 
Comedie  as  a  debutante,  or  kind  of  apprentice.  Unless  she  has 
extraordinary  ^alent  and  still  more  extraordinary  luck,  she  is  likely 
to  remain  in  this  decidedly  inferior  position,  both  as  regards  rank 
and  salary,  for  several  years.  Then,  by  decree  of  the  committee, 
endorsed  by  the  Minister  of  Fine  Arts,  she  is  made  a  part  member, 
with  half  or  two-thirds  of  the  salary  of  a  full  member.  Sometimes 
an  actress  remained  at  the  Comedie  twenty  or  twenty-five  years 
without  being  made  a  full  member.  Sarah  had  been  there  nearly 
eight  years.  The  salary  of  a  full  member  was  thirty  thousand 
francs  a  year  ;    Sarah  was  receiving  twenty  thousand. 

The  difficulty  arose  not  so  much  from  the  question  of  salary, 
however,  as  from  the  fact  that  Sarah  Bernhardt  would  be  playing 
in  a  foreign  capital,  and  would  be  in  an  inferior  position  as  regards 
the  billing  and  the  programmes.  The  custom  of  the  Comedie 
was  strict  in  this  regard  :    the  name  of  the  oldest  societaire  in 

2i8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

rank  appeared  first  on  the  programme,  regardless  of  the  role 
she  played.  This  was  understood  in  Paris  ;  it  might  easily  be 
misunderstood  in  London, 

"  If,"  insisted  Sarah,  "  I  go  to  London,  it  must  be  as  a  full 
member,  with  a  full  member's  privileges  and  emoluments." 

There  was  an  immediate  rebellion  in  the  committee. 

"  We  have  had  enough  of  her  caprices  !  "  cried  Perrin.  "  Let 
her  remain  here,  if  she  wants  to  !  I  will  not  consent  to  her 
demands  !  " 

Nothing  in  Sarah's  contract,  it  appeared,  obliged  her  to  travel 
abroad.     So  it  was  settled  that  she  should  not  go. 

Then  Hollingshead  and  Mayer  threw  another  bombshell  into 
the  excited  and  harassed  committee  of  the  Comedie  Fran9aise. 
If  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  not  coming,  they  said,  they  did  not  want 
the  troupe  at  all,  and  they  hereby  cancelled  the  contract  ! 

The  end  of  it  was  that  Sarah  obtained  her  full  membership, 
as  did  Croizette,  and  the  whole  troupe  embarked  for  London. 
The  first  man  to  greet  her  as  she  stepped  ashore  in  England  was 
Oscar  Wilde.  He  became  a  great  friend  of  Sarah's  some  years 
later — a  friendship  that  only  ceased  with  his  downfall. 

Sarah's  first  visit  to  London  was  not  the  triumph  which  she 
had  anticipated,  though  she  had  her  share  of  the  laurels.  Her 
lodgings  at  ']'],  Chester  Square  which  were  procured  for  her  by 
William  Jarrett,  the  impresario  who  later  managed  her  tour  of 
America,  were  crowded  with  celebrities,  but  they  came  out  of 
curiosity  and  not  to  pay  homage. 

Stories  of  her  eccentricities  had  long  been  printed  in  England. 
She  was  looked  upon  as  a  wild  woman,  and  her  morals  were  much 
discussed  and  severely  commented  upon  in  staid  London  society. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  219 

Everything  she  did  in  London  during  this  first  visit  evoked  hostile 
comment.  The  papers  praised  her  performances,  but  criticised 
her  sensational  appearances  in  society,  into  which  she  was  intro- 
duced by  Lady  Dudley. 

Queen  Victoria  vetoed  a  suggestion  that  she  should  play 
in  a  State  performance  at  Court.  The  Prince  and  Princess  of 
Wales  were  not  in  London  on  this  first  occasion,  and  their  tolerant 
influence  did  not  make  itself  felt. 

Still,  there  was  nothing  definite  against  Sarah,  except  gossip, 
and  so  much  was  admitted  everywhere.  All  fashionable  London 
fell  captive  to  her  art  on  the  stage  of  the  Gaiety.  The  Times 
acclaimed  her  as  the  greatest  emotional  actress  ever  seen  on  an 
English  stage.  She  made  her  London  dehut  in  the  second  act  of 
Phedre,  into  which  she  put  so  much  of  herself  that  after  the 
performance  she  fainted  from  exhaustion  and  had  to  be  carried 
home.  "  Such  a  scene  of  enthusiasm,"  wrote  the  Standard, 
"  has  rarely  and  perhaps  never  been  witnessed  in  an  English 

Meanwhile,  a  tremendous  campaign  was  going  on  against  her 
in  the  Paris  newspapers.  They  said  that  by  her  eccentric  actions 
she  had  disgraced  the  Comedie  Frangaise  abroad,  and  brought 
dishonour  on  her  country.  It  was  a  despicable  campaign,  and  was 
founded  on  practically  nothing.  But  her  enemies  in  Paris  were 
determined  to  make  hay  while  the  cat  was  away,  if  I  may  be 
pardoned  for  mixing  up  two  proverbs. 

Gladstone,  who  was  much  struck  by  the  charming  and  emo- 
tional French  actress,  introduced  her  to  King  Leopold  of  Belgium, 
who  fell  an  utter  slave  to  her  beauty.  She  was  seen  with  the 
Belgian  monarch  everywhere,  and,  as  Leopold  enjoyed  probably 

220  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

the  worst  reputation  of  any  prince  in  Europe,  the  fact  that  he  was 
obviously  enamoured  of  Sarah  did  not  enhance  her  reputation. 

This  incident,  in  fact,  in  Republican  France,  was  only  an  added 
cause  for  dissatisfaction.  Leopold  was  not  liked  in  Paris,  and  he 
was  barely  tolerated  in  London  ;  yet  Sarah  seemed  to  find  pleasure 
in  his  conversation  and  amusement  in  his  company.  He  had,  of 
course,  the  entree  everywhere,  and  as  often  as  not  he  appeared 
with  Sarah,  generally  to  the  secret  dismay  of  his  hostess. 

There  were  houses  in  London  at  this  period  where  certain 
representatives  of  royalty  were  looked  at  askance  ;  and  this 
condition  of  affairs  obtained  also  in  many  European  capitals. 
When  I  was  in  Moscow  I  was  amazed  to  find  that  there  were 
several  aristocratic  but  untitled  families  who  would  not  have 
dreamed  of  receiving  a  Grand  Duke  into  their  homes. 

One  of  the  rumours  that  gained  particular  credit  in  London 
was  to  the  effect  that  Sarah  smoked  cigars.  She  received  several 
boxes  from  male  admirers  ! 

Another  story  was  that  she  paraded  the  streets  dressed  as 
a  man.  I  doubt  both  of  the  stories  myself — especially  that  as  to 
the  cigars,  for  Sarah  never  smoked  at  all — ^but  they  were  widely 
credited  in  London,  and  those  of  the  Paris  newspapers  that  were 
hostile  to  the  actress  naturally  seized  on  them  and  reprinted  them 
with  avidity.  Editorials  were  published  severely  criticising  her 
conduct,  and  these  finally  grew  so  numerous  that  Sarah  decided 
to  have  done  with  them  once  and  for  all. 

She  accordingly  wrote  a  letter  to  Albert  Wolff,  the  director  of 
the  Figaro,  announcing  that  she  had  decided  to  resign  from  the 
Comedie  Fran9aise. 

Nobody  believed  she  would  actually  resign — she  had  threatened 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  221 

it  too  many  times  before' — but  her  announcement  in  the  Figaro 
caused  huge  excitement.  The  Minister  of  Fine  Arts  telegraphed 
personally  to  Sarah  demanding  an  explanation.  Sarah  disdained 
to  reply.  The  Comedie  troupe  was  recalled  from  London,  and 
Sarah  was  warned  not  to  play  for  a  while,  as  the  public,  "  after 
the  things  she  had  done  in  London,"  would  be  sure  to  hiss  her. 
She  insisted  on  playing,  however,  and  was  given  an  ovation. 
It  was  another  triumph  for  her  personality.  But  she  had  the 
critics  against  her  en  masse. 

A  few  weeks  later  Perrin  refused  to  postpone  the  premiere 
of  L'Aventuriere,  in  which  Sarah  was  playing  Clorinde,  despite 
her  statement  that  she  was  physically  unable  to  act.  The  first 
night  was  a  failure.  Sarah  was  unanimously  attacked  in  the 
newspapers,  and  this  time,  enraged  at  Perrin,  she  did 

She  wrote  her  resignation,  posted  it,  and  then  fled  from  Paris, 
so  that  no  one  could  call  her  back.  She  was  gone  five  weeks,  and 
nobody  knew  her  address. 

When  she  returned,  she  found  Jarrett  waiting  for  her  with  a 
new  contract  for  London,  to  be  followed  by  one  for  America.  She 
accepted  both,  and  returned  to  London  with  her  own  company. 
There  the  eccentricities  of  her  previous  visit  were  forgiven,  and 
her  triumph  was  complete  until  she  made  the  serious  mistake  of 

taking  her  son  to  the  home  of  Lord  and  Lady  R ,  where  she 

was  invited  to  play. 

Lady  R 's  indignation  at  Sarah's  daring  action,  though 

Sarah  herself  probably  considered  it  nothing  out  of  the  ordinary, 
knew  no  bounds,  and  she  gave  secret  instructions  to  her  butler. 
This  functionary  advanced  before  Sarah  into  the  huge  ball-room. 

222  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

which  was  crowded  with  people  distinguished  in  British  society, 
and  solemnly  announced  : 

"  Mademoiselle  Sarah  Bernhardt  and  her  son !  " 
After  this  she  was,  of  course,  unmercifully  snubbed,  and  left 
in  a  rage  ten  minutes  later.  This  was  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  last 
appearance  in  British  society  until  Queen  Victoria,  yielding  to 
the  entreaties  of  the  Prince  of  Wales,  lifted  the  ban  and  commanded 
her  to  give  a  performance  of  La  Dame  aux  Camelias  at 
Windsor  Castle. 

But  this  recognition  did   not    come  until  many   long  years 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  223 


"  Enough  of  Sarah  Bernhardt !  Now  that  she  has  finally  left 
the  Comedie  Fran9aise,  let  us  forget  her  !  " 

This  was  the  slogan  of  Sarah's  enemies  in  the  year  1880. 
And  many  of  her  friends  thought,  with  a  sigh  of  relief,  that  they 
were  to  be  spared  for  a  little  while,  at  any  rate,  the  pain  of  the 
extraordinary  publicity  the  actress  provoked. 

Sarah  was  now  thirty-six  years  old.  Her  son,  Maurice,  had 
reached  his  seventeenth  year,  and  was  already  causing  her  a  good 
deal  of  trouble,  due  to  her  eccentric  way  of  bringing  him  up. 

She  was  original  in  her  treatment  of  his  childish  faults.  When 
he  was  six,  he  persisted  in  a  habit  of  chewing  the  tips  of  his 
gloves,  and  no  correction,  apparently,  could  cure  him  of  the  habit. 
Exasperated,  Sarah  one  day  made  him  take  a  pair  of  gloves  to 
the  kitchen,  fry  them  in  butter,  and  eat  them  !  The  cure  proved 

I  do  not  intend  to  devote  much  of  this  biography  to  Maurice 
Bernhardt.  He  is  still  alive,  and  I  understand  he  is  writing  his 
own  memoirs.  It  is  my  opinion,  however,  that  it  was  not  he 
himself  but  Sarah's  own  conception  of  the  boon  of  motherhood 
which  throughout  her  life  was  perhaps  its  outstanding  influence. 

Maurice  was  a  wilful,  headstrong,  nervous  child  ;  strong  for 
his  size,  and  a  handful  for  the  various  nurses  who  were  engaged 
to  look  after  him. 

224  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Sarah  was  stern  with  him  at  times,  indulgent  at  others ;  and 
she  educated  him  to  rely  upon  her,  and  never  once,  even  in  her 
old  age,  did  she  rely  upon  him. 

When  he  was  twelve,  Maurice  was  already  quite  a  "  man 
about  town,"  preferring  adult  companionship  and  evincing 
precocious  likes  and  dislikes.  When  he  was  fifteen,  Sarah 
settled  a  large  sum  on  him  and  before  he  was  twenty  his  income 
from  her  was  60,000  francs  annually.  She  always  told  her  friends 
that  she  did  not  mind  what  he  did  with  the  money,  so  long  as  he 
dressed  himself  properly. 

Thus,  almost  from  infancy,  Maurice  was  accustomed  to  an 
amount  of  luxury  that  was  far  in  advance  of  his  mother's  real 

The  sole  thing  on  which  she  insisted  was  that  he  should  learn 
the  art  of  fencing,  so  as  to  defend  his  life  in  case  of  a  duel.  This 
art,  when  once  learned,  got  the  youngster  into  several  scrapes, 
which  cost  Sarah  a  good  deal  of  money. 

As  a  small  child  Maurice  appeared  with  Sarah  on  the  stage  on 
one  or  two  occasions,  but  he  evinced  no  great  talent  for  the  theatre. 
He  also,  when  a  young  man,  attempted  the  art  of  plajrwriting, 
assisted  by  his  mother,  but  met  with  no  greater  success.  In  later 
years  he  tried  to  persuade  his  mother  to  make  him  general 
manager  of  the  Sarah  Bernhardt  Theatre,  in  her  stead.  It  was 
the  only  thing  she  ever  denied  him. 

Sarah's  various  studios  and  fiats  were  always  filled  with 
pictures  of  Maurice  at  all  ages- — many  of  them  being  sketches  or 
paintings  by  Sarah  herself. 

So  much  for  Maurice  Bernhardt.  He  was  an  affectionate  son, 
and  if  he  has  not  been  exceptionally  useful  during  his  long  life,  it 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in   Adrienne  Lecouvreur. 

p.  224. 


Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  225 

is  the  fault  of  his  haphazard  upbringing.  He  is  now  a  father,  a 
grandfather,  a  member  of  the  best  Paris  clubs,  a  well-known  figure 
in  baccarat  rooms  and  on  race-courses,  and  he  still  maintains  his 
excellent  reputation  as  a  swordsman.     Sarah  died  in  his  arms. 

It  was  in  1880,  before  she  left  for  her  first  American  tour — 
in  October  of  that  year — that  Sarah  Bernhardt  first  organised  a 
company  of  her  own.  This  was  placed  by  her  under  the  paternal 
direction  of  Felix  Duquesnel,  Sarah's  old  friend  at  the  Odeon, 
and  consisted  of  nine  artistes,  who  had  been  carefully  selected  for 
the  purpose  of  supporting  her  on  tour.  They  were  Madame  Kalb, 
Pierre  Berton,  Mary  Jullien,  Jeanne  Bernhardt,  Madame  Devoyod, 
Jean  Dieudonne,  L.  Talbot,  J.  Train  and  myself.  I  was,  of  course, 
the  youngster  of  the  troupe. 

Our  repertoire  at  this  time  consisted  of  eight  plays  :  Hernani, 
Froufrou,  La  Dame  aux  Camelias,  Le  Sphinx,  L'Etrangere,  La 
Princesse  George,  Adrienne  Lecouvreur  and  Phedre.  Let  me 
now  set  forth  the  story  of  how  La  Dame  aux  Camelias,  one  of 
Sarah's  greatest  triumphs,  proved  a  failure  until  she  brought 
her  own  genius  to  bear  on  the  play  and  transformed  it  into  a 

La  Dame  aux  Camelias,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  was  in  its 
original  form  written  by  Dumas  fils  after  earnest  consultation 
with  Sarah,  It  was  never  played,  however,  and  lay  for  some 
years  neglected  in  a  drawer.  One  day  Dumas  took  it  out  and 
read  a  few  pages  of  the  second  act  to  Sarah,  for  the  purpose  of 
eliciting  her  opinion  on  the  piece. 

"  Let  me  take  it  with  me  !  "  she  asked,  and  Dumas  gave  the 
manuscript  to  her. 

A  few  days  later  she  brought  it  back  to  him  with  a  third  of 

226  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

it  crossed  out  and  corrected.  New  lines  had  been  added  to 
practically  all  the  important  passages,  and  part  of  the  second  act 
had  been  cut  out  entirely. 

"  There  !  "  she  told  him.  "  Your  play  is  better  like  that ! 
If  you  will  revise  it  as  I  have  marked  the  manuscript,  I  will 
play  it  and  make  it  a  success." 

"  It  is  I  who  am  the  playwright  and  not  you,  mademoiselle  !  " 
he  said  angrily. 

Bernhardt  turned  on  her  heel. 

"  Very  well !  "  she  flung  at  him  over  her  shoulder  ;  "a  day 
will  come  when  you  will  beg  me  to  produce  your  play !  " 

Dumas  refused  to  be  influenced  by  such  criticism,  and  even- 
tually the  play  was  produced,  in  a  small  way,  at  the  Comedie, 
and  then  at  another  theatre,  but  had  no  success  at  either.  Sarah's 
amendments  and  suggestions  had  been  ignored. 

After  Sarah  had  organised  her  own  company,  Pierre  Berton 
one  day  went  to  her  with  the  information  that  Dumas  wished  to 
see  her. 

"  What  about  ?  "  asked  Sarah. 

"  About  a  play  called  La  Dame  aux  Camelias.  We  were 
reading  it  together  last  night  and  I  believe  it  can  be  played  by 
us  with  success.     In  fact,  it  is  a  play  absolutely  written  for  you  !  " 

"  Did  you  tell  Dumas  that  ?  "  asked  Sarah,  grimly. 

"  Yes." 

"  What  did  he  say  ?  " 

"  He  said  that  he  agreed  with  me." 

"  And  that  was  all  ?  " 

"  That  was  all — except  that  he  asked  that  I  should  bring  the 
matter  to  your  attention." 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  227 

Sarah  laughed.  "  I  told  Dumas  that  he  would  one  day  beg 
me  to  play  this  thing  for  him,"  she  said,  "  and  you  may  tell  him 
that  if  he  wants  me  to,  he  must  do  just  that — beg  !  " 

Berton  must  have  taken  the  message  diplomatically  to  Dumas, 
for  the  next  day  the  latter  was  announced  at  Sarah's  house, 

I  was  not  present  at  the  interview,  but  at  the  end  of  it  Sarah 
informed  us  that  La  Dame  aux  Camelias  was  to  be  included  in  our 

Knowing  Sarah's  temperament  and  her  obstinacy,  I  presume 
Dumas  begged.  At  any  rate,  the  book  of  the  play,  as  it  was  placed 
in  our  hands  shortly  afterwards,  contained  all  the  original  cor- 
rections which  she  had  made  and  which  Dumas  had  at  first  ignored. 

We  produced  La  Dame  (as  it  was  always  called)  at  Brussels, 
whither  we  had  gone  on  the  earnest  representations  of  King 
Leopold,  who  was  still  greatly  enamoured  of  Sarah. 

In  Brussels  La  Dame  obtained  no  success  whatever.  The 
Belgians  much  preferred  Adrienne  Lecouvreur  and  Frou- 
frou. It  was  in  the  last-named  play  that  Sarah  had  scored  her 
biggest  success  in  London,  on  her  second  visit  as  an  independent 
artiste.  Sarcey,  who  had  written  what  he  called  "  Sarah's 
Epitaph  "  when  she  left  the  Comedie,  saying  that  it  was  "  time  to 
send  naughty  children  to  bed,"  was  compelled  to  make  a  special 
journey  to  London  in  order  to  write  reviews  of  Sarah's  extraordin- 
ary productions  there. 

Instead  of  her  light  becoming  dimmer,  it  blazed  higher  and 
higher  with  each  month  that  separated  her  from  her  "  im- 
prisonment "  at  the  Comedie  Frangaise. 

Yes  .  .  .  imprisonment  was  what  Sarah  considered  it. 

"  At  last  I  am  free  and  my  own  mistress,"  she  said.     "  Perrin 

228  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

cannot  make  me  work  when  I  don't  want  to,  and  all  the  critics 
can  go  to  the  devil !  " 

It  was  predicted  that  the  fine  of  one  hundred  thousand  francs 
imposed  on  Sarah  for  breaking  her  contract  with  the  Comedie 
would  be  a  blow  from  which  she  would  find  it  hard  to 

"  We  shall  hear  less  of  our  dear  Sarah  now  !  She  will  go 
away  and  leave  us  in  peace  !  "  wrote  Paul  de  St.  Victor,  her 
ancient  enemy  of  the  Ruy  Bias  banquet. 

But  instead  of  sinking  under  the  blow,  Sarah  only  worked  the 
harder.  She  was  absolutely  tireless  at  this  period.  Her  visits 
to  London  and  to  Brussels  were  organised  chiefly  to  avoid  the 
process-servers,  who  were  hammering  at  the  door  of  her  house 
in  Paris  with  blue  papers  ordering  her  to  pay  the  hundred  thousand 

Sarah  had  not  then  the  money  to  pay  her  fine,  but  for  one 
full  year  her  creditors  could  not  legally  obtain  a  judgment  against 
her  by  default  (which  would  have  meant  the  sacrifice  of  her  house, 
and  of  all  its  treasures).  So  after  they  had  made  the  customary 
three  visits  to  her  Paris  home,  had  knocked  thrice  on  the  door, 
and  had  instituted  condemnation  proceedings,  Sarah  returned  to 
Paris  and  set  about  organising  a  whirlwind  tour  of  the  provinces, 
to  precede  her  departure  for  America. 

Sarah  met  the  Prince  and  Princess  of  Wales  at  Brussels,  and 
charmed  and  was  charmed  by  them.  They  saw  her  in  Frou- 
frou while  the  guests  of  the  King  and  Queen  of  the  Belgians. 
This  was  the  beginning  of  a  long  and  precious  friendship  between 
Sarah  and  the  Princess  (afterwards  Queen  Alexandra)  which 
lasted  until  Sarah's  death. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  229 

After  Sarah's  Brussels  visit  the  Princess — who  was  by  birth 
Danish,  as  everybody  knows — obtained  for  us  a  Royal  command 
to  perform  before  the  King  and  Queen  of  Denmark  at  Copenhagen. 
Five  performances  only  were  asked  for,  and  for  these  Sarah 
demanded  120,000  francs  and  our  expenses.  The  sum  was 
immediately  agreed  to, 

Sarah  did  not  like  Denmark.  She  was  in  a  bad  humour 
throughout  the  visit.  We  were  lent  the  Royal  yacht,  on  which  to 
make  a  trip  on  the  fjords.  It  was  a  lovely  day  and  I  can  hear 
still  the  beautiful  voices  of  the  Upsal  Choir,  blending  so  perfectly 
with  the  grandeur  of  the  landscape. 

Vicomte  de  Bondy,  an  attach^  then  at  the  French  Legation, 
met  us  on  the  trip  and  begged  me  to  introduce  him  to  Sarah. 
I  agreed,  but  when  we  approached  her  we  were  dismayed  to  hear 
her  giving  her  opinion  of  the  country  to  a  friend,  in  no  uncertain 

"  Je  m'enfiche  de  leur  pays!  lis  m' emb  Stent !  "  she  cried. 
The  nearest  translation  to  this,  in  English  slang,  would  be  : 
"  I'm  fed  up  with  their  country  !  They  bore  me  to  death  !  " 
Only  the  language  was  a  trifle  stronger  ! 

When  these  phrases  reached  our  ears  the  Vicomte  stopped 
suddenly.  Then  he  raised  his  hat,  and  turned  on  his 

"  I  do  not  think  I  want  to  meet  your  Sarah  !  "  he  said  shortly, 
and  forthwith  he  disappeared  from  our  party. 

I  recounted  the  incident  to  Sarah  the  next  day,  as  we 
sat  on  deck  of  a  steamer  which  was  carrying  us  back  to 

230  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  And  he  was  a  Frenchman !  "  she  exclaimed.  "  Why, 
what  you  heard  me  say  was  nothing  !  I  said  a  great  deal  more  to 
the  Crown  Prince,  and  he  only  laughed  !  " 

Sarah's  freedom  of  language  was   at   times  embarrassing. 

Baron  Magnus,  the  then  German  Minister  in  Denmark,  was 
an  old  inhabitant  of  Paris,  and  had  known  Sarah  in  the  days 
before  the  war.  But  since  1870  Sarah  could  not  bear  to  look  at 
a  German. 

When  the  baron  got  up  at  a  banquet,  therefore,  and,  raising 
a  glass  of  champagne,  jovially  proposed  her  health,  the  actress 
could  not  restrain  her  anger.  She  sprang  to  her  feet  and  raised 
her  glass  high  in  the  air,  to  the  astonishment  of  the  King,  the  Queen 
and  various  other  members  of  the  Royal  family  who  were  seated 
round  her^ — and  probably,  it  must  be  admitted,  to  their  secret 

"  I  accept  your  toast.  Monsieur  the  Minister  of  Prussia,"  she 
cried,  "  but  only  on  condition  that  you  extend  it  to  include  the 
whole  of  La  Belle  France  !  " 

Baron  Magnus  turned  white.  He  could  think  of  nothing  to 
say,  and  he  sat  down.  The  band  struck  up  the  "  Marseillaise  " 
and  then,  courteously  enough,  considering  what  had  passed,  he 
got  on  his  feet  again. 

Long  afterwards,  he  and  Sarah  became  very  good  friends. 
But  he  never  tired  of  telling  the  story  of  how  Sarah  had 
startled  a  King  and  Queen  and  humbled  an  Imperial 

On  September  4,  1880,  we  left  Paris  on  our  first  tour  of  the 
provinces  under  Duquesnel's  managership.  The  tour,  which 
lasted  twenty-eight  days,  was  a  tremendous  success,  and  in  October, 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  231 

a  few  days  after  our  return  to  Paris,  Sarah  left  for  America  under 
Abbey's  management.  I  did  not  go  with  her,  my  family  being 
unwilling  that  I  should  make  the  journey  before  having  completed 
my  studies. 

232  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


As  I  said  at  the  conclusion  of  the  last  chapter,  I  did  not  accom- 
pany Sarah  Bernhardt  on  her  first  visit  to  the  United  States, 
and  I  can  therefore  give  no  first-hand  impressions  of  the  trip. 
What  is  more,  she  told  me  so  much  when  she  returned,  and  so 
mixed  were  her  own  impressions,  that  it  is  hard  for  me  to  say  now 
whether  she  actually  enjoyed  her  visit  to  the  New  World  or  not. 

"  What  a  detestable  country !  "  she  would  say  sometimes. 
"  What  a  marvellous  country  !  "  she  would  exclaim  at  others. 
Similar  mixed  conclusions  are  often  brought  back  from  America 
by  visitors  even  now. 

She  adored  the  scenery,  the  energy  and  the  extravagance  of 
the  Americans,  and  she  thought  the  American  men  perfect' — 
aU  except  the  reporters.  But  she  hated  the  American  women — 
and  she  hated  most  of  them  until  she  died. 

"  Their  voices  !  "  she  would  exclaim,  and  shudderingly  put 
both  hands  to  her  ears.     "  Quelle  horreur !  " 

When  she  opened  in  New  York,  one  of  her  most  expensive 
costumes,  she  told  me,  was  completely  ruined  by  women  visiting 
her  in  her  dressing-room,  who  insisted  on  fondling  it  and  exclaim- 
ing over  its  rich  embroidery. 

During  her  visit  to  London,  in  the  June  of  the  year  when  she 
first  went  to  America,  she  met  Henry  Irving. 

"  They  tell  me,  madame,  that  you  are  going  to  the  United 
States  ?  "  said  Irving. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  233 

"  Yes,"  said  Sarah.  "  I  must  make  money,  and  the  Americans 
seem  to  have  it  all !  "  Even  at  this  period  that  was  the  generally 
accepted  idea  ! 

"  Madame,"  said  Irving,  "  what  you  say  saddens  me  extremely  ! 
America  is  a  country  of  barbarians  !  They  know  nothing  about 
the  theatre,  and  yet  they  presume  to  dictate  to  us  !  If  I  were 
you  I  would  not  go  to  America,  madame  !  What  you  will  gain 
in  doUars,  you  will  lose  in  heart-throbs  at  their  ignorance  of  your 
art !  " 

Irving  himself,  however,  went  to  America  a  few  years  later. 

Sarah  brought  back  from  the  United  States  six  hundred 
thousand  francs,  a  variety  of  animals— including  a  lynx,  which 
bit  her  chambermaid  and  had  to  be  killed  a  week  after  its  arrival 
in  Paris — a  profound  respect  for  American  enterprise,  and  the 
reputation  she  had  long  been  hoping  to  make  for  La  Dame  aux 

When  Alexandre  Dumas  was  told  of  her  intention  to  play 
La  Dame  in  New  York  he  cried  disgustedly  :  "  That's  it  ! 
Try  my  play  on  the  barbarians  !  " 

As  a  matter  of  fact.  Booth's  Theatre,  where  Sarah  opened  in 
America,  was  filled  on  the  first  night  with  almost  the  entire 
French  colony  in  New  York,  which  was  a  considerable  one. 
Practically  the  only  Americans  there  were  the  critics,  and  a  few 
wealthy  society  people  who  held  regular  boxes.  The  play  chosen 
for  the  first  night  was  Adrienne  Lecouvreur. 

The  next  day  Abbey,  the  impresario,  rushed  into  Sarah's 
bedroom' — Sarah  usually  received  her  business  folk  in  the  morning 
while  still  in  bed- — waving  a  bundle  of  papers.  His  face  wore  th§ 
Ipok  of  one  stricken  by  some  grievous  blow, 

234  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Stopping  short,  he  gave  Sarah  a  look  of  indescribable  anguish, 
and  then  sat  abruptly  down  and  mopped  his  face.  He  could  not 

Sarah  sat  up  in  bed,  fright  on  her  countenance. 

"  What  is  it  ?  What  is  it  ?  The  theatre  has  been  burned 
down,  and  my  costumes  are  destroyed  ?  " 

"  No,"  said  Abbey,  "  but  your  reputation  is  !  " 

The  American  papers,  without  exception,  said  that  Sarah 
Bernhardt  was  a  magnificent  actress,  but  that  her  rdpertoire 
was  filled  with  plays  which  should  never  be  shown  on  the  American 
stage.  "  They  are  doubtless  considered  all  right  in  immoral 
Paris,"  said  the  Glohe,  "  but  they  will  certainly  only  succeed  in 
disgusting  Americans." 

And  they  proceeded  to  tear  poor  Adrienne  Lecouvreur  to 
pieces  !  A  highly  improper  play,  they  said,  and  one  which  should 
never  be  given  in  the  presence  of  American  women.  One  paper 
seriously  advised  the  police  to  descend  on  the  theatre,  close  the 
performances,  "  arrest  this  woman,  and  send  her  back  to  France." 

Sarah  was  bewildered.  She  had  played  Adrienne  in  Paris, 
in  London,  in  Brussels  and  in  Copenhagen,  and  everywhere  it 
had  been  met  with  tremendous  applause.  This  was  her  first 
experience  of  American  methods. 

The  fact  of  the  matter  was  that  only  one  of  the  critics  present 
at  the  opening  night  knew  French,  and  they  gathered  quite 
wrong  impressions  from  the  few  words  they  did  understand.  The 
play,  given  at  full  length  in  a  word  for  word  English  translation, 
would  doubtless  have  been  insufferably  vulgar.  In  French,  it 
was  whimsical,  delightful  in  its  irony,  and  entirely  free  from  any- 
thing objectionable  whatsoever.     The  American  critics,  however, 


Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  235 

could  not  understand  the  subtlety  of  the  lines,  and  they  gathered 
their  opinions  solely  from  the  action. 

The  manager  of  the  theatre  followed  Abbey  into  Sarah's  bed- 
room.    He  wore  a  strained,  a  hunted  look. 

"  You  have  seen  the  newspapers  ?  "  he  asked  Abbey. 

"  Yes  !  "     Consternation  was  in  the  eyes  of  all  three. 

"  What  shall  we  do  ?  "  inquired  Abbey,  at  last. 

"  There  is  only  one  thing  to  do — we  must  choose  another 
repertoire!  They  will  have  us  arrested  soon,  if  this  keeps 

"  But  that  is  ridiculous  !  "  angrily  said  Sarah.  "  Never 
before  in  my  life  have  I  been  so  insulted  !  I  will  either  play 
La  Dame  aux  Camelias  to-night,  or  I  will  pack  up  and  return  to 
France  by  the  next  boat  !  " 

The  two  men  cried  out  in  protest. 

"  You  can't  do  that  !  "  said  Abbey.  "  There  must  be  some 
way  out  of  the  difficulty !  " 

"  I  shall  play  La  Dame  aux  Camelias  to-night,  as  arranged  !  " 
said  Sarah,  as  if  this  was  the  last  word  on  the  subject. 

Abbey  and  the  manager  of  Booth's  Theatre  took  their 
departure,  after  arguing  with  her  for  some  time,  but  in  vain. 

"  She  will  do  it !  "  said  Abbey,  with  conviction.  "  When 
Sarah  Bernhardt  m.akes  up  her  mind,  heaven  and  earth  cannot 
change  it." 

"  But  we  must  do  something  !  "  said  the  manager,  in  despair. 

"  I  have  it  !  "  exclaimed  Abbey.  "  We  will  play  La  Dame, 
but  we  will  call  it  something  else.  They  will  never  know  the 

When  Sarah  Bernhardt  arrived  at  the  theatre  that  night,  she 

236  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

was  astounded  to  see  huge  red  placards  outside,  announcing  that 
she  would  play  Camille. 

She  rushed  to  Jarrett,  the  first  man  she  met  on  the  stage. 

"  What  is  it,  this  Camille  ? "  she  exclaimed  furiously, 
"  I  know  no  Camille !  " 

"  Oh  yes,  you  do,"  said  Jarrett,  smiling  urbanely.  "  Cam- 
ille is- — La  Dame  !  " 

"  Oh  !  "  cried  Sarah,  and  burst  into  uncontrollable  laughter. 

The  theatre  was  packed  to  the  roof,  this  time  with  a  most 
representative  crowd  of  Americans.  The  publicity  of  the  morn- 
ing had  done  its  work.  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  playing  immoral 
pieces  ?  Well,  New  York  didn't  know  what  to  do  about  it, 
but  New  York  decided  to  go  and  see  for  itself. 

This  sort  of  theatrical  psychology  is  now  a  well-understood 
thing.  Even  in  Paris,  when  a  revue  is  not  making  expenses,  they 
bribe  the  police  to  make  a  complaint  about  the  immorality  of 
one  of  the  scenes — and  then  its  success  is  assured.  But  it  was  the 
first  time  such  a  thing  had  been  known  in  America, 

New  York  liked  Camille — it  liked  it  enormously  ! 

The  critics  were  not  fools,  though.  Every  paper  announced 
the  next  day  that  Camille  was  in  reality  La  Dame  aux  Camelias, 
but  with  an  American  name  !■ 

They  also  said  that  the  play  had  been  forbidden  in  London 
by  Queen  Victoria,  which  was  true  ;  and  were  very  severe  on 
the  "  prudish  Queen  "  for  her  "  narrow-mindedness."  Com- 
pletely forgetting  their  fulminations  of  only  twenty-four  hours 
before,  they  said  that  it  was  an  unthinkable  crime  that  such  a 
beautiful  play  should  ever  have  been  banned  anywhere.     It  was 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  237 

rather  "  Frenchy,"  they  admitted,  but  Sarah's  magnificent  acting 
more  than  made  up  for  that. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  made  more  than  a  dozen  tours  in  America, 
and  Camille  was  invariably  her  greatest  success  there.  It 
broke  all  records  for  receipts  in  New  York  City. 

The  reputation  of  the  play  crossed  the  Atlantic  before  Sarah 
did.  Alexandre  Dumas  did  not  know  whether  to  be  delighted  or 
dismayed.     The  "  barbarians  "  had  liked  his  play  ! 

The  success  of  La  Dame  in  America  encouraged  Sarah  to 
give  it  a  fair  trial  in  France,  and  elsewhere  in  Europe.  Even- 
tually it  became,  after  Phedre  and  Le  Passant,  her  greatest 
success.  Even  L'Aiglon — another  play  which  received  its 
original  baptism  of  success  in  the  United  States — could  not  rival 
it  in  popularity. 

All  of  which  may  go  to  show  that  American  audiences  have 
a  better  sense  of  the  dramatic  than  have  audiences  in  Europe — 
or  it  may  not  ! 

After  witnessing  a  performance  of  Le  Sphinx,  which  also 
obtained  an  enormous  success  in  New  York,  Commodore  Vander- 
bilt,  who  was  then  at  the  hey-day  of  his  power  in  New  York, 
but  was  not  yet  accepted  in  society  because  of  his  bluff  and  hearty 
— ^not  to  say  indifferent — manners,  was  announced  to  Sarah  in 
her  dressing-room.  She  had  heard  of  this  remarkable  man,  and 
was  anxious  to  meet  him.  Her  account  of  the  conversation,  which 
took  place  through  an  interpreter,  was  amusing. 

"  His  first  words  to  me  "  (said  Sarah)  "  were, '  You  are  a  Jewess, 
aren't  you,  madame  ?  ' 

"  I  was  offended  at  his  manner,  and  replied  frigidly,  '  No, 
monsieur,  I  am  a  Catholic  ! ' 

238  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  '  That's  peculiar,'  said  Vanderbilt,  '  I  heard  you  were  a 
Jewess.  However,  it  don't  matter.  I  came  to  present  my  respects. 
You're  the  only  woman  who  ever  made  me  cry  !  ' 

"  I  laughed — nobody  could  resist  him.  '  Yep,  by  gorry,' 
went  on  the  multi-millionaire,  '  you  made  me  cry  !  An'  I've 
taken  a  box  for  every  night  you  are  billed  to  play  !  '  " 

He  kept  his  word.  Looking  across  the  footlights,  night  after 
night,  throughout  twenty-three  performances,  Sarah  never  failed 
to  see  Vanderbilt  in  his  box.  Every  time  he  saw  her  looking  at 
him,  he  took  out  a  gigantic  handkerchief  and  solemnly  wiped  his 
eyes.  When  she  left  New  York,  he  was  among  those  who  saw 
her  off  on  the  boat. 

"  Ma'am,"  he  said,  "  I'd  like  to  give  you  a  present.  What 
would  you  like  the  most  ?  " 

Some  women,  hearing  such  an  avowal  from  a  multi-million- 
aire, would  have  thought  of  jewels.     But  Sarah  was  more  original. 

"  Give  me  your  handkerchief  !  "  she  replied  promptly. 

Vanderbilt  was  much  taken  aback,  but  took  out  his  handker- 
chief and  gave  it  to  her. 

Sarah  thanked  him.  "  I  shall  keep  this  always,"  she  told 
him,  "  in  memory  of  the  time  I  made  Vanderbilt  cry  !  " 

When  she  got  back  to  Paris,  she  had  it  framed  and  hung  on 
the  wall  of  her  boudoir,  but  on  one  of  the  several  occasions  that 
her  furniture  was  seized  for  debt,  she  lost  it,  and  Vanderbilt 
had  meanwhile  died. 

Theodore  Roosevelt,  then  a  very  young  man,  was  another  of 
those  who  met  Sarah  Bernhardt  during  her  first  visit  to  New  York. 
He  was  a  firm  friend  of  hers  until  he  died,  and  invariably  visited 
her  when  he  was  on  one  of  his  trips  abroad. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  239 

A  letter  from  Roosevelt,  extolling  her  genius,  was  one  of  the 
few  she  kept  and  had  framed.  It  hung  until  the  day  of  her  death 
in  the  little  ante-chamber  outside  her  bedroom. 

In  this  letter  the  former  President  said  in  one  passage  : 
"  I  have  altered  my  plans  so  as  to  arrive  in  Paris  after  you  return 
from  Spain.  I  could  not  come  to  Paris  and  miss  seeing  my  oldest 
and  best  friend  there." 

During  her  tour  of  America  in  1892,  Sarah  had  dinner  with 
Roosevelt,  and  she  loved  to  recount  the  experience  to  her  friends 
on  her  return  to  Paris. 

"  An  unforgettable  character  !  "  she  would  say,  and  then 
would  add  :   "  Ah,  but  that  man  and  I,  we  could  rule  the  world  !  " 

They  came  near  to  doing  it,  he  on  one  side  as  President  of  the 
United  States,  and  she,  on  the  other,  as  the  uncrowned  Queen  of 

Booth,  James  Hubbard,  James  Wilcox  and  James  K.  Hackett 
were  other  Americans  whom  Sarah  counted  among  her  warmest 
friends.     Hackett  represented  the  American  stage  at  her  funeral. 

It  has  often  been  commented  upon  that  Sarah  Bernhardt 
never  had  an  American  lover.  I  heard  her  speak  of  this  one  day 
with  regret. 

"  I  am  sure  the  Americans  must  be  great  lovers,"  she  said  ; 
"  they  are  so  strong,  so  primitive,  and  so  childish  in  their  ardoiu. 
The  English  are  wonderful  men  to  love,  because  they  possess 
the  faculty  of  bending  one  to  their  likes,  dislikes  and  moods 
without  seeming  to  make  it  an  imposition  ;  but  the  Americans 
are  greater,  for  they  bend  themselves  to  suit  you." 

This  absence  of  Americans  in  Sarah's  sentimental  life  is  best 
explained  by  the  short  duration  of  each  of  her  tours  of  America 

240  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

and  the  distances  covered  during  them.  Many  towns  in  America 
saw  Sarah  only  for  twenty-four  hours,  and  the  whole  period  was 
a  ceaseless  whirl  of  arriving,  rehearsing,  playing  and  departing. 
She  was  a  genius  at  organisation  and  insisted  on  attending  to  the 
larger  details  of  her  tours  herself. 

After  three  weeks  in  America,  Sarah  learned  sufficient  English 
to  know  the  simpler  expressions,  and  before  1895  she  spoke  it 
very  well.  On  her  tours  in  America  she  invariably  travelled  by 
special  train,  the  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  Special,"  but  this  was  not 
by  her  own  arrangement,  and  she  did  not  like  it. 

"  They  will  not  put  one's  special  coaches  on  the  fast  trains," 
she  explained,  "  and  at  night  they  back  one's  car  into  a  siding, 
where  one  is  kept  awake  by  the  noise  of  the  goods  trains  being 
made  up,  shunting,  arriving  and  departing." 

On  her  last  two  visits  to  America  she  did  not  use  either  a 
special  train  or  a  special  car,  but  travelled  in  drawing-room 
sleepers.  She  said  she  found  it  easier  and  "  beaucoup  plus 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  241 


Sarah's  first  tour  of  the  United  States  and  Canada  occupied 
seven  months,  during  which  she  visited  fourteen  states  and  four 
provinces,  played  in  more  than  fifty  theatres  and  appeared  before 
the  public  more  than  150  times. 

When  she  returned  to  France,  warships  fired  salutes,  the  entire 
city  of  Havre  was  beflagged  and  illuminated,  and  some  of  the 
most  distinguished  persons  in  France  were  on  the  quay  to  greet 

She  had  departed  an  enfant  terrible,  to  use  the  mot  of  Sarcey  ; 
she  returned  an  idol,  feverishly  acclaimed.  Enfin,  France  was 
once  more  to  salute  its  Sarah  ! 

Never  before  had  any  woman  become  such  an  entirely  national 
character.  Others  had  risen  to  similar  artistic  greatness — 
Rachel  was  probably  as  great  a  tragedienne  as  was  Sarah  at  this 
epoch,  and  Sarah  always  declared  that  never  in  her  life  had  she 
attained  the  sublime  heights  of  Rachel's  art' — but  none  had  become 
at  the  same  time  a  popular  figure  amongst  the  masses,  to  whom 
actresses  until  now  had  always  seemed  beings  apart. 

The  theatre  has  always  been  a  cult  in  France,  much  more  so 
than  in  any  other  nation,  but  in  the  sixties  and  seventies  it  was  a 
cult  practised  only  by  the  few  who  possessed  the  requisite  educa- 
tion to  understand  the  difficult  verse,  the  delightful  satire,  the 

242  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

delicate  irony  of  the  poets  whose  work  then  constituted  nine- 
tenths  of  the  plays  performed.  Or,  on  the  other  hand,  there  were 
the  so-called  popular  theatres,  but  these  were  vulgar  burlesques 
of  what  the  popular  theatre  is  to-day. 

It  was  Sarah  Bernhardt,  more  than  anyone  else,  who  trans- 
formed, with  her  magic  touch,  the  theatre  in  France  from  the 
superior,  intellectual  toy  of  the  cultured  few  to  the  amusement 
and  recreation  of  the  many.  This  she  accomplished  not  only 
by  her  insistence  on  dramatic  values,  as  much  as  on  literary 
excellence — on  scenic  perfection  as  much  as  on  the  handling  of 
phrases — but  by  her  own  personal  genius  in  finding  the  "  common 

When  she  returned  from  the  United  States,  it  was  to  find 
preparations  being  made  for  her  to  play  Theodora,  the  new 
play  by  Victorien  Sardou,  who  was  just  then  coming  to  the  fore. 
But  several  other  matters  intervened. 

First,  she  fell  in  love  with  Philippe  Garnier,  an  actor  of  con- 
siderable talent ;  secondly,  Gamier  persuaded  her  to  make  a 
Grand  Tour  of  Europe  ;  thirdly,  she  was  introduced  to  Jules 
Paul  Damala,  who  took  her  away  from  Garnier  and  made  her  his 
wife  ;  fourthly,  Victorien  Sardou,  on  the  advice  of  Pierre  Berton, 
withdrew  his  offer  asking  her  to  play  Theodora  and  suggested 
that  instead  she  should  play  Feodora,  an  older  play  by  him  and 
one  well-tried  by  public  favour. 

These  events  tumbled  one  after  another  into  the  life  of  Sarah 
Bernhardt,  and  all  had  their  influence  on  it. 

She  first  became  really  intimate  with  Philippe  Garnier  at 
a  banquet  given  to  celebrate  her  return.  I  remember  that 
Sarah   gave   a   demonstration    at    this   banquet    of    how   the 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  243 

Americans  ate  with  their  knives  and  fingers,  and  kept  us 
all  convulsed  by  her  description  of  American  food. 

"  Mon  ami,"  she  said  to  the  actor  Decori,  who  sat  next  me, 
"  you  would  not  believe  it — the  Americans  never  take  more  than 
a  quarter  of  an  hour  to  dine,  and  they  eat  in  whichever  order  the 
cook  has  prepared  the  dishes.  If  the  fruit  is  ready,  then  they  eat 
that  first  !     Ugh  !     It  was  terrible  !  "     She  shuddered. 

The  American  cuisine  was  always  one  of  Sarah's  pet  abomina- 
tions, and  on  other  visits  to  the  United  States  she  was  careful  to 
take  her  own  cook  as  well  as  a  supply  of  food,  wines  and  condi- 
ments. When  Edison  invited  her  in  1890  to  one  of  his  country 
houses,  she  is  said  to  have  arrived  there  with  a  cook  of  her  own 
and  an  entire  kitchen  staff ! 

Though  Sarah  herself  liked  to  make  fun  of  the  Americans, 
she  never  allowed  anyone  else  to  do  so ;  and  when  Dore,  who 
had  visited  America,  related  a  humorous  anecdote  somewhat  too 
cutting  in  its  sarcasm,  Sarah  caught  him  up  sharply.  Dore 
replied  with  equal  acerbity,  and  it  was  Garnier  who  distinguished 
himself  by  leaping  into  the  breach  and  smoothing  down  the 
ruffled  feathers  of  the  two  friends. 

Sarah  noticed  him,  began  an  animated  conversation  with  him, 
and  found  him  spirituel — in  the  French  sense  of  the  word — ^well- 
informed  and  charming.     She  invited  him  to  call  and  see  her. 

He  called  frequently,  and  a  week  later  was  made  a  star 
member  of  Sarah's  company.  It  was  Garnier  who  insisted  that 
she  should  exploit  the  publicity  gained  from  her  American  tour 
by  undertaking  at  once  another  whirlwind  tour  of  Europe,  this 
time  going  as  far  as  Russia. 

The  prospect  appealed  to  Sarah,  but  she  was  tired  and  not 

244  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

over-anxious  to  undertake  the  monumental  work  of  organising 
such  an  expedition.  So  Garnier  did  this  for  her,  and  within  two 
months  had  the  itinerary  completed. 

In  the  meantime  Sarah  had  made  a  most  tragic  acquaintance 
— that  of  Damala. 

This  man  was  a  Greek,  of  good  family,  who  had  originally 
been  destined  for  diplomacy,  and  had  come  to  France  to 
pursue  his  studies.  In  Paris  he  had  rapidly  acquired  the  reputa- 
tion of  being  the  "  handsomest  man  in  Europe." 

He  was  tall,  physically  of  classic  beauty,  and  with  a  passionate, 
Oriental  face,  which  was  dominated  by  a  pair  of  warm  brown 
eyes,  shielded  by  lashes  of  girlish  length. 

"  The  '  Diplomat  Apollo  '  was  the  name  by  which  he  was 
jocularly  known  among  his  friends  ;  and  jealous  husbands  and 
lovers  talked  of  him  as  the  most  dangerous  man  in  Paris. 

He  had  had  numerous  affairs  before  he  met  and  fell  in  love, 
after  his  Oriental  fashion,  with  Sarah  Bernhardt.  One  was  with 
the  wife  of  Paul  Meissonnier,  a  Parisian  banker,  whose  reputation 
he  had  ruined  to  the  extent  of  forcing  her  to  leave  France. 

Another  was  with  the  daughter  of  a  Vaucluse  magistrate, 
who  left  her  parents  and  a  comfortable  home  to  follow  Damala 
to  Paris,  where  he  deserted  her  when  her  baby  was  born.  This 
girl  wrote  a  book  exposing  Damala,  after  he  had  married  Sarah 
Bernhardt,  but  the  book  was  suppressed.  I  never  heard  what 
became  of  her.     Perhaps  the  Seine  could  tell. 

Young,  beautiful  and  a  dare-devil,  Damala,  when  he  met 
Bernhardt,  was  a  figure  to  delight  the  gods  of  evil.  There  was  no 
vice  to  which  he  was  not  addicted,  no  evil  thing  which  he  would 
not  attempt.     His  Oriental  parties,  at   which  those  taking  part 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  245 

divested  themselves  of  their  clothing  and  plunged  naked  into 
baths  of  champagne,  were  the  talk  of  Paris. 

It  was  inevitable  that  Bernhardt,  the  famous  actress,  and 
Damala,  the  almost  equally  notorious  bon  viveur,  should  eventually 
meet.  Each  knew  the  reputation  of  the  other,  and  their  curiosity 
was  only  the  more  whetted  thereby. 

Each  delighted  to  play  with  fire,  and  especially  with  the 
dangerously  devastating  fire  which  smoulders  eternally  within 
the  human  soul. 

Bernhardt  prided  herself  on  her  ability  to  conquer  men,  to 
reduce  them  to  the  level  of  slaves  ;  Damala  vaunted  his  ability 
as  a  hunter  and  a  spoiler  of  women. 

No  man,  said  Bernhardt,  could  long  resist  her  imperious  will ; 
no  woman,  said  Damala,  could  long  remain  impervious  to  his 
fatal  charm- — and  to  prove  it  he  would  exhibit  with  pride  the 
clattering  bones  in  his  closet. 

Like  grains  of  mercury  in  a  bowl  of  sand,  their  two  natures 
were  inevitably  attracted  towards  each  other.  Both  were  serenely 
confident  of  the  issue  of  that  coming  clash  of  wills, 

Damala  boasted  to  his  friends  that,  as  soon  as  he  looked  at 
her,  the  great  Sarah  Bernhardt  would  be  counted  on  his  long  list 
of  victims  ;  and  Bernhardt  was  no  less  certain  that  she  had  only 
to  command  for  Damala  to  succumb. 

She  was  all  woman,  feline  in  her  charm  and  attraction  for 
men,  but  herculean  in  the  labour  which  was  in  reality  the  greater 
half  of  her  life.  Damala  was  only  half  a  man  ;  he  had  the  exterior, 
the  sexual  attraction  of  one,  but  he  lacked  the  vital  power  to 
live  and  to  endure  by  the  labour  of  his  hands  and  brain. 

He  was  beautiful  and  brilliant,  but  only  the  shell  was  left 

246  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

of  his  manhood,  which  he  had  burned  out  years  before  his  time, 
for  he  was  younger  than  Sarah  by  three  years.  Sarah,  despite 
all  the  marvellous  things  which  she  had  already  accomplished, 
had  the  best  of  her  span  of  life  before  her.  Damala  was  indolent, 
unambitious  except  as  regards  women,  hot-headed,  quick  to  take 
up  an  insult,  and  an  unscrupulous  fiend  when  his  passions  were 
aroused.  He  had  the  presence  and  manners  of  a  gentleman  and 
the  mind  of  a  chimpanzee. 

Even  before  he  met  Sarah,  Damala  was  a  victim  to  the  vice 
of  morphine,  and  in  that  curious  strata  of  society  which  is  com- 
posed of  drug-takers,  he  met  Jeanne  Bernhardt,  Sarah's  sister, 
who  had  no  right  to  the  name,  but  who  had  assumed  it  at  the 
behest  of  their  mother. 

Jeanne  had  succumbed  to  morphine  before  she  was  twenty-five. 
She  had  followed  Sarah's  footsteps  into  the  theatre,  but  she  had 
none  of  the  talent  of  her  great  half-sister,  nor  had  she  the  beauty, 
despite  her  early  promise. 

She  was  a  peculiar-looking  woman,  with  dark  hair,  a  thin  face, 
deep  green  pools  for  eyes,  a  weak  chin  and  uncertain  mouth. 
She  could  fill  a  small  part  in  a  play,  with  the  aid  of  Sarah's  care- 
ful coaching,  but  she  could  not  be  depended  upon  ;  and  at  times, 
under  the  influence  of  her  special  drug,  would  commit  the  worst 
blunders.  On  more  than  one  occasion  she  had  almost  ruined  a 

Poor  Jeanne  !  She  had  much  that  was  good  in  her.  She  loved 
Sarah  with  a  passion  which  was  extraordinary,  to  say  the  least, 
considering  the  earlier  lack  of  devotion  to  one  another  that 
characterised  the  household  of  Julie  Bernard. 

That  poor  lady  was  now  dead,  at  the  age  of  fifty-one.     She 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  247 

had  lived  long  enough,  however,  to  see  her  unwanted  child  rise 
to  heights  of  fame  that  were  almost  dizzy,  when  regarded  from 
her  own  comparatively  small  eminence  of  beauty  and  coquette. 

The  baby  she  had  left  to  the  tender  mercies  of  a  concierge's 
wife,  and  all  but  abandoned ;  the  thin,  delicate  child  who 
had  wanted  to  be  a  nun,  and  whom  she  had  never  really 
imderstood  ;  that  being  whom  she  had  created,  fruit  of  perhaps 
the  only  genuine  passion  of  her  empty  life,  had  become  the 
favourite  toast  of  the  world,  the  darling  of  two  hemispheres,  with 
kings  paying  homage  to  her  beauty  and  her  art. 

It  is  to  be  doubted  whether  Julie  ever  really  understood  the 
miracle  that  had  happened.  It  is  to  be  doubted  also  whether  she 
ever  credited  Sarah  with  the  genuine  greatness  that  was  hers. 
Almost  to  the  day  of  her  death,  in  fact,  she  was  steadily  lamenting 
her  daughter's  extravagances  and  eccentricities — she,  of  all  women, 
whose  foibles  had  once  shocked  the  gayest  city  in  the  world  ! 

It  takes  a  strong  will  and  a  cool  head  to  survive  the  fast  life 
of  the  theatre,  especially  when  that  life  is  lived  as  Sarah  Bern- 
hardt lived  it.  Though  Sarah  might  appear  strong  ;  though  her 
constitution,  which  had  once  been  delicate,  might  now  seem  to 
be  made  of  spun  steel,  in  reality  she  was  still  delicate — extremely 
so.  It  was  her  will  that  triumphed,  the  will  to  accomplish,  to 
create,  to  live — the  will  which  is  another  name  for  genius. 

But  little  Jeanne,  the  centre  of  her  mother's  fond  hopes,  had 
neither  strength  of  body  nor  power  of  will.  She  had  not  genius, 
only  a  facility  for  mimicry.  The  life  that  sustained  and  ex- 
hilarated Sarah,  ruined  and  finally  killed  her. 

Sarah's  feeling  for  Jeanne  was  the  pity  which  is  akin  to  love, 
and  not  the  sisterly  devotion  she  might  have  felt  had  her  earlier 

248  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

history  been  less  unfortunate.  She  helped  the  girl  all  she  could, 
saw  that  she  had  work,  and  that  she  was  able  to  earn  sufficient 
money.  She  took  her  to  America,  in  the  hope  that  travel  and 
the  change  into  a  newer,  freer  atmosphere  would  work  the  miracle 
she  so  ardently  desired. 

Sarah's  hatred  for  drugs  was  one  of  the  abiding  passions  of 
her  life.  She  herself  had  such  an  unquenchable  spirit  within  her 
that  she  could  not  imagine  the  plight  of  those  who  were  compelled 
to  indulge  a  fanciful  morbidity  with  such  artificial  stimulants. 

Once,  shortly  after  discovering  that  her  half-sister  was  taking 
morphine,  she  thrashed  Jeanne  with  a  riding- whip  and  locked  her  in 
her  bedroom.  There  for  four  days  she  kept  her  a  prisoner,  denying 
her  both  food  and  drug  in  an  imscientific  attempt  to  tame  her 
desires,  which,  of  course,  ended  in  failure.  Despite  all  Sarah's 
efforts,  Jeanne  slipped  gradually  down  the  hill  and  into  the  pit 
which  is  the  inevitable  fate  of  those  who  seek  the  bliss  of  this 
artificial  paradise. 

Morphine  had  come  into  general  use  as  a  medicine  during  the 
war  of  1870,  and  many  doctors  and  soldiers  had  learned  to  listen 
to  its  dangerous  appeal.  They  taught  its  use  to  their  women,  and 
the  alleged  miracles  worked  by  the  drug  became  noised  abroad. 
Its  use  became  almost  fashionable  ! 

People  who  frequented  the  salons  took  it  shamelessly,  just 
as  anyone  else  would  take  a  glass  of  champagne.  It  was  said  that 
opium  dulled  your  cares  and  finally  made  you  forget  them,  but 
that  morphine  kept  you  conscious  of  them  and  actually  made  you 
enjoy  them  ! 

Jeanne  and  Damala  were  members  of  a  group  of  morphine- 
takers  connected  with  the  stage,  who  made  no  secret  of  their 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  249 

vice.  Damala  was  a  fair  amateur  actor — it  was  in  this  direction 
and  not  diplomacy  that  his  ambitions  lay — and  delighted  to 
frequent  the  coulisses  (as  the  French  term  the  wings),  the  Green 
Room,  and  the  other  mysterious  haunts  which  lie  behind  the 
footlights.  Many  were  his  victories  in  this  half -world  of 
pleasure  and  of  work. 

When  Jeanne  spoke  of  Damala  to  Sarah,  the  latter  felt  herself 
repelled  and  yet  fascinated.  Outwardly  she  denounced  him,  but 
inwardly  she  was  enormously  interested  in  this  notorious  man, 
and  longed  to  meet  him. 

Unconscious  of  the  insidious  spell  that  was  at  work,  enchain- 
ing their  two  destinies,  Sarah  privately  determined  to  see  this 
arrogant  monster,  this  darling  of  the  drawing-rooms,  this  man 
who  was  called  the  handsomest  being  since  Apollo. 

They  met  finally  at  the  house  of  a  friend  who  was  curious  to 
see  what  they  would  do  when  brought  together. 

250  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


This  meeting  of  Sarah  Bernhardt,  then  the  greatest  feminine 
personality  in  Europe,  and  Damala,  who  was  to  be  the  central 
figure  of  the  most  tragic  episode  of  her  life,  will  remain  in  my 
memory  for  ever. 

They  were  introduced  by  a  mutual  friend. 

"  Damala  ?  "  said  Sarah,  raising  her  eyebrows,  and  affecting 
an  ignorance  of  his  name  which  was  in  the  circumstances  really 

"  Bernhardt  ?  "  replied  Damala,  in  similar  accents. 

It  was  flint  on  stone. 

"  Sir  !  "  exclaimed  the  dismayed  hostess,  "  you  are  addressing 
the  greatest  actress  in  France  !  " 

"  And  I,"  said  Damala,  in  a  sceptically  belittling  manner,  "  am 
therefore  the  greatest  man  in  France  !  " 

Bernhardt  shrugged  her  shoulders  at  this  insolence. 

"  You  do  not  interest  me,  monsieur  !  "  she  said,  turning  away. 

"  Wait,"  said  Damala,  "  you  have  not  heard  all.  I  am  also 
the  wickedest  man  in  Paris." 

"  You  sound  to  me,"  replied  Sarah,  "  a  fool,  and  the  poorest 
boaster  I  have  ever  met !  "    And  she  left  him. 

He  laughed,  and  the  laughter  reached  her.  It  struck  straight 
at  her  most  vulnerable  trait — ^her  vanity 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  251 

A  man  had  laughed  at  Sarah  Bernhardt !  More,  he  was  laugh- 
ing still  !     It  was  incredible  ! 

Yet  it  was  so,  and  the  memory  of  that  laugh,  and  of  the  pas- 
sage of  arms  which  had  preceded  it,  lingered  with  her.  She  was 
piqued.  For  the  first  time  in  her  experience  she  had  met  a  man 
who  would  not  humble  himself  before  her. 

Sarah  was  now  negotiating  for  the  purchase  of  the  Porte 
St.  Martin  theatre,  which  she  proposed  to  place  under  the  direc- 
tion of  her  young  son,  Maurice  Bernhardt.  In  this  capacity, 
as  a  possible  purchaser,  she  came  face  to  face  with  Damala,  who 
had  been  waiting  for  her  in  the  theatre. 

Sarah  would  have  swept  by  him,  but  he  stepped  in  front. 

"  I  have  brought  you  a  present  !  "  he  said,  and  held  out  a 
bouquet  of  beautiful  lilies-of-the-valley — for  it  was  Springtime, 
the  fete  of  muguet.  This  flower  is  supposed  in  France  to  be 
a  symbol  of  good  fortune,  and  many  a  forlorn  lover  makes  up 
a  quarrel  with  his  sweetheart,  on  the  first  of  May,  by  presenting 
her  with  a  tiny  bundle  of  muguet. 

Sarah  looked  at  him,  astonished.     Here  was  a  new  Damala  ! 

But  the  Greek  quickly  disillusioned  her. 

"  I  give  it  to  you,"  he  said,  "  because  you  will  need  it — with 
me!  " 

This  was  even  greater  insolence  than  he  had  shown  before. 
Sarah  was  angry,  mortified — and  interested.  Within  a  week  she 
confounded  her  friends  by  accepting  an  invitation  to  dine  with 
Damala  alone. 

Although  his  family  in  Athens  had  destined  him  for  the  dip- 
lomatic service,  his  own  private  ambition  was  to  be  an  actor. 
As  I  have  said,  he  was  an  amateur  comedian  of  no  small  merit. 

252  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

and  when  Sarah  discovered  this  she  invited  him  to  become  a 
member  of  her  company. 

He  accepted  at  once,  but  his  family  intervened  and — a  curious 
case  of  history  repeating  itself — had  him  sent  on  a  diplomatic 
mission  to  Russia,  whither  young  de  Lagrenee  had  gone  a  few 
years  before. 

Sarah  was  now  all  ready  to  depart  on  her  Grand  Tour  of 
Europe,  during  which  she  was  to  visit  all  the  principal  capitals 
and  was  to  give  performances  literally  before  "  all  the  crowned 
heads."  In  fact,  many  of  those  crowned  heads  were  destined  before 
long  seriously  to  feel  her  powers  of  attraction. 

She  had  already  included  in  her  itinerary  Spain,  Italy,  Aus- 
tria, Holland,  Belgium,  Denmark,  Sweden  and  Norway.  It  was 
an  enormous  undertaking,  having  regard  to  difficulties  of  transport 
at  that  time,  when  the  train  services  in  many  countries  were  the 
worst  imaginable.  On  this  tour,  I  was  again  included  in  her 

When  Damala  went  to  Russia,  he  begged  her  to  follow,  and 
as  her  itinerary  included  Denmark,  it  was  not  difficult  for  her  to 
arrange  to  go  from  there  to  Reval,  and  thence  to  St.  Petersburg. 
Russia  had  always  possessed  an  enormous  attraction  for  her. 

Voluminous  descriptions  of  this  tour  have  already  been 
given,  and  I  shall  not  therefore  say  much  about  it,  except  as 
regards  Sarah  personally. 

In  Lisbon,  the  actor  Decor i  jumped  into  the  first  place  in 
Sarah's  affections,  and  Decori  was  extremely  jealous  of  another 
actor  named  Dumeny,  because  he  had  a  better  part  in  the  piece. 

During  the  rehearsals  for  L'Aveu,  however,  Decori  pre- 
tended to  be  a  great  friend  of  Dumeny 's,  and  carried  him  off  every 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  253 

day  on  fishing  trips.  As  a  consequence,  Dumeny  did  not  properly 
learn  his  part,  and  his  performance  on  the  opening  night  was 

Sarah  called  him  into  her  dressing-room  for  an  hour,  and  gave 
him  one  of  the  most  frightful  reprimands  I  have  ever  heard.  It 
was  devastating.  When  Dumeny  came  out,  he  was  pale  and 
trembling  like  a  leaf. 

That  night  the  company  were  the  guests  of  the  well-known 
de  Rosas  at  a  formal  banquet,  and  one  of  the  hosts  proposed  a 
toast  to  the  French  artistes. 

Sarah  sprang  to  her  feet  and  pointed  a  shaking  finger  at  her 
unfortunate  subordinate  Dumeny,  who  was  sitting  quietly  at  one 
end  of  the  table  with  his  wife. 

"  Ah,  no  !  "  she  cried,  "  I  will  not  drink  }our  toast  if  it  in- 
cludes that  pig  there !  When  I  play  with  him,  I  never  have  any 
applause ! " 

There  was  a  dead  silence  for  a  few  moments,  and  then  Dumeny, 
very  pale  and  with  tears  in  his  eyes,  rose  and  left  the  room,  followed 
by  his  wife.     We  drank  the  toast. 

The  next  day  Sarah  bore  down  on  Dumeny  in  the  middle  of 
rehearsals  and  exclaimed  heartily  :  "  Ah,  my  little  cabbage  !  " — 
and  kissed  him  on  the  cheek ! 

In  Madrid  I  was  asked  to  play  the  part  of  Nanine  in  La  Dame 
aux  Camelias.  The  Theatre  de  I'Opera  at  Madrid  is  an  immense 
building,  and  the  area  at  the  back  of  the  stage  is  a  perfect  wilder- 
ness of  gangways,  passages,  and  turnings  between  the  different 
sets.  It  was  difficult  even  for  the  habitues  of  the  theatre  to  find 
their  way  about.  As  for  myself,  I  never  did  learn  the  quickest 
way  from  one  side  of  the  stage  to  the  other,  when  a  scene  was 

254  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

being  played.  The  distance  seemed  tremendous,  and  one  was 
always  tripping  over  something. 

I  was  supposed  to  make  my  exit  by  one  door  and  to  re-appear 
at  another  one,  where  I  was  to  knock  and  say  a  certain  line 
loudly — I  have  forgotten  the  exact  words. 

I  made  my  exit  safely  enough,  but  in  running  round  to  the 
other  door  I  lost  my  way,  missed  my  cue,  and,  rendered  nervous 
at  the  prospect  of  Sarah's  wrath,  entered  without  saying  the  line. 
As  I  did  so,  Sarah  darted  a  furious  look  at  me,  and  I  realised 
that  she  had  already  explained  my  absence  in  such  a  way  that 
my  appearance  created  a  comic  situation.  The  audience  was 

In  the  last  act  Sarah  "  died  "  and  it  was  my  duty  to  pass  a 
garment  over  her.  This  was  the  first  time  I  had  been  close  to 
her  since  my  faux  pas  of  the  third  act. 

Suddenly,  as  she  sank  with  glazing  eyes  on  her  couch,  I  was 
amazed  to  hear  her  launch  into  a  perfect  stream  of  low-toned 
vituperation,  directed  at  myself. 

Her  breast  heaved,  her  breath  came  in  short  gasps.  Sarah 
Bernhardt  was  "  dying  "  in  one  of  the  most  magnificent  scenes  she 
ever  played.  Her  lips  moved — and  it  is  fortunate  that  the  audience 
could  not  hear  what  they  said  ! 

They  said,  in  fact :  "  You  ugly  cow  !  You  have  spoiled  every- 
thing by  your  clumsiness !    This  is  not  the  proper  garment  !  " 

And,  in  truth,  I  discovered  to  my  horror  that  it  wasn't  ! 
I  was  in  such  a  nervous  state  that  I  had  chosen  the  wrong  robe. 
However,  I  am  certain  that  nobody  except  Sarah,  not  even  the 
others  in  the  company,  noticed  the  fact.  But,  added  to  my  previous 
grave  fault,  this  error  was  enough  for  her. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  255 

She  kept  up  her  great  death  scene,  taking  twice  as  long  as  usual, 
because  she  kept  on  thinking  of  new  reproaches  to  hurl  at  me. 
What  reproaches  they  were,  too  !  My  ears  burned.  My  cheeks 
were  tingling  with  indignation. 

Finally,  when  she  uttered  a  really  outrageous  insult — it  was 
with  her  supposedly  last  breath  that  she  said  it- — I  leaned  down, 
and,  making  the  motions  of  intense  and  tearful  grief,  hissed 
between  my  sobs  : 

"  You  say  another  word  and  I'll  smack  your  face  here  on  the 
stage  !  " 

I  meant  it,  too,  and  Sarah  must  have  seen  that  I  did,  for  she 
"  died  "  properly  this  time,  and  never  pronounced  another  word. 

And  all  this  while  there  was  the  audience  out  in  the  mistiness 
beyond,  tense  and  grief-stricken,  held  by  the  marvellous  acting 
of  the  great  tragedienne  on  her  stage  death-bed  ! 

In  Vienna  the  Archduke  Frederick  put  one  of  his  palaces  at 
Sarah's  disposal,  and  in  appreciation  of  his  act  of  courtesy  we 
gave  a  special  performance  for  him,  to  which  all  the  ladies  of 
the  Court  were  invited.  The  Emperor  was  away,  or  ill — I 
forget  which. 

The  last  act  in  La  Dame  aux  Camelias,  the  very  one  which 
I  have  just  been  describing,  made  such  an  impression  on  one  of 
these  ladies,  a  beautiful  Hungarian,  that  she  fainted  dead  away 
and  had  to  be  carried  out  of  the  theatre. 

"  Had  I  been  a  woman  I  would  have  fainted  too  !  "  said  the 
Archduke,  when  Sarah  expressed  her  regret  at  the  occurrence. 

He  gave  her  an  emerald  pendant,  set  in  natural  gold  which  had 
been  obtained  from  a  mine  on  his  estate  near  Bugany  in  Hungary. 
For  a  long  time  Sarah  wore  this  emerald  more  prominently  than 

256  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

any  other  jewel.  Finally  it  went  the  way  of  most  of  her 
precious  possessions.  Sarah  gave  out  that  it  had  been  "  lost." 
Perhaps  it  had  been,  but  I  think  I  know  the  man  who  found  it- — 
and  who  paid  Sarah  handsomely  for  the  privilege  ! 

We  were  asked  to  play  in  Prague,  but  Sarah  had  refused  to 
go  there,  as  she  had  refused  to  go  to  Berlin.  A  few  years  later, 
in  fact,  she  declined  an  offer  of  one  million  marks  to  play  in  Berlin. 
"  Never  among  those  swine  !  "  she  would  say. 

Eventually  however' — some  sixteen  years  later  I  believe' — 
Sarah  appeared  in  Berlin  and  secured  triumph.  Germany,  as 
I  have  stated  in  an  earlier  chapter,  acclaimed  her  as  one  of  the 
Fatherland's  own  children. 

Finally,  after  returning  to  France  through  Switzerland,  we 
went  to  Holland,  and  from  there  to  the  Baltic  states.  We  played 
in  Stockholm,  Christiania  and  Copenhagen.  Our  greatest  recep- 
tion was  in  Stockholm,  where  Sarah  became  an  idol  of  the  people. 
I  have  always  thought  that  the  Swedes  understand  dramatic  art 
better  than  any  other  nation  except  the  French. 

We  passed  through  Finland,  but  did  not  play  there,  Sarah 
was  anxious  to  get  to  St.  Petersburg,  where  a  grandiose  demon- 
stration and  welcome,  not  to  mention  Damala,  awaited  her. 

Word  came  that  the  Tsar  was  to  command  a  performance  in 
the  Winter  Garden,  and  the  whole  company  was  tremendously 
excited.  None  of  us  had  ever  seen  the  Tsar.  But  so  many 
stories  had  reached  us  about  him  that,  in  our  imaginations,  he 
had  become  a  sort  of  god.  Tales  of  the  munificence  of  his  enter- 
tainments, the  sumptuousness  of  his  Court,  the  power  that  he 
wielded,  had  combined  to  weave  about  his  person  a  truly  romantic 
glamour.     And  we  were  to  play  before  this  mighty  personage  ! 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  257 

But  Sarah  was  not  thrilled' — at  least,  not  in  anticipation  of 
playing  before  the  Tsar,  She  might  have  been,  and  probably 
was,  thrilled  at  the  prospect  of  again  meeting  Damala,  the  one 
man  who  had  met  and  vanquished  her  with  her  own  weapons. 

And,  when  we  actually  saw  the  Great  White  Tsar,  we  felt  the 
edge  taken  off  our  thrill,  too.     He  was  the  most  insignificant 
looking  monarch  in  all  Europe  ! 


258  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


We  made  our  entry  into  St.  Petersburg  under  the  most  pro- 
pitious conditions.  The  sun  was  smiling,  and  the  effect  on 
the  towers,  domes  and  spires  of  Russia's  wonderful  city  was 
indescribably  lovely.  The  Nevski  Prospekt  was  a  never- 
to-be-forgotten  sight,  with  its  splendid  shops,  its  magnificent 
palaces,  and  its  succession  of  fashionable  people  in  their  smart 

Rooms  had  been  reserved  for  us  at  the  Hotel  du  Nord,  but 
on  arriving  there  we  found  that  it  had  not  sufficient  accommoda- 
tion for  all  of  us,  so  a  part  of  the  company,  amongst  them  myself, 
went  on  to  the  European. 

Being  extremely  tired  after  the  long  journey,  I  went  straight 
to  my  room  to  get  some  sleep,  though  it  was  only  four  o'clock  in 
the  afternoon.  I  was  awakened  by  a  knock  on  the  door.  I  lit 
the  gas,  and  found  that  the  clock  said  midnight.  Who  could 
be  knocking  on  the  door  at  that  unearthly  hour  ? 

It  was  a  maid,  with  a  message  from  Hugette  Duflos,  one  of 
the  women  members  of  the  company,  who  had  remained  at  the 
Hotel  du  Nord. 

"  Sarah  is  ill  and  wants  you,"  the  message  said. 

I  dressed  at  once,  and  asked  the  maid  whether  a  conveyance 
could  be  found  to  take  a  very  young  girl  in  safety  through  the 
streets  at  night.     The  maid  laughed. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  259 

"  Oh,  yes  !  "  she  answered.  "  Evidently  madame  is  not 
acquainted  with  our  customs  !     This  is  tea-time  !  " 

"  Tea-time  !  "  At  midnight !  I  must  have  looked  incredu- 
lous, for  the  maid  went  on  to  explain  : 

"  Fashionable  people  do  not  rise  until  twelve  o'clock  in  St. 
Petersburg,  and  the  shops  and  restaurants  therefore  keep  open 
very  late.  When  you  are  having  your  supper  in  Paris,  we  in 
Russia  are  taking  our  tea  !  " 

Going  out  into  the  brilliantly-lighted  streets  I  saw  that  she  was 
right.  They  were  alive  with  people,  and  most,  if  not  all,  the  shops 
and  of  course  the  restaurants  were  open.  It  was  a  novel  scene 
that  amused  and  enchanted  me. 

We  arrived  in  a  few  minutes  at  the  Hotel  du  Nord,  and  there 
another  surprise  awaited  me.  Sarah  Bernhardt  herself,  accom- 
panied by  none  other  than  Jacques  Damala,  advanced  to  meet 
me.  Right  and  left  were  other  members  of  the  company,  arriving 
in  a  similar  state  of  bewilderment. 

"  We  are  going  to  have  a  real  Russian  party  !  "  announced 

"  But — I  thought  you  were  ill  ?  "  I  said. 

"  Just  an  excuse — to  get  you  out  of  bed,  ma  petite  !  "  she  said, 
to  my  astonishment.  "  I  knew  all  of  you  were  so  tired  that  you 
would  never  get  up  for  a  mere  invitation  to  a  party,  so  I  invented 
the  excuse  that  I  was  ill !  " 

Some  of  the  party,  especially  the  men,  were  very  angry  and 
returned  to  their  beds,  after  telling  Sarah  what  they  thought  of 
her.  Sarah  only  laughed.  I  myself  felt  nervous  and  annoyed, 
and  Sarah  must  have  seen  this,  for  she  passed  her  arm  round  me 
and  led  me  to  a  buffet,  where  she  gave  me  a  little  hot  tea  with 

26o  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

cognac  and  lemon  in  it.     This  warmed  and  strengthened  me,  and 
I  decided  to  stay. 

The  party  kept  on  till  four  o'clock,  with  Sarah  and  Damala 
behaving  like  two  children  in  their  teens.  There  was  a  fearfully 
fascinating  Prince  there— Dimitri  something,  his  name  was— and 
he  devoted  himself  to  me,  as  the  youngest  and  therefore  the 
most  innocent  of  the  party.  I  was  sixteen  or  seventeen — I 
forget  which.  At  any  rate,  it  was  all  perfectly  wonderful  to 

People  kept  arriving  and  departing  as  casually  as  they 
had  come.  All  St.  Petersburg  seemed  determined  to  make  the 
acquaintance  of  Sarah  Bernhardt,  and  the  throng  round  her 
was  tremendous,  with  the  result  that  many  who  wanted  to 
talk  to  her  had  to  content  themselves  with  the  other  members 
of  the  company. 

My  Prince  was  courtesy  itself.  He  was  quite  young,  and  very 
distinguished-looking ;  and  I  heard  it  stated  that  he  was  related 
to  the  Royal  family.  But  I  never  found  out  the  exact  relation- 
ship .  .  .in  fact,  Russia  was  such  a  whirl  for  me  that  I  carried 
away  very  few  facts  and  decidedly  mixed  impressions.  Everyone 
was  charming. 

We  were  feted  night  after  night  in  the  most  gorgeous  way.  The 
Grand  Duke  Michael — I  think  it  was  he — opened  up  his  palace, 
which  looked  like  a  fortress,  to  us  one  night  and  we  gave  a  brief 
performance  there.  After  that  we  danced.  Several  of  the  Grand 
Dukes  were  there,  and  so  was  my  Prince,  who  presented  me  to 
his  wife,  a  gracious  lady  with  that  air  of  innate  breeding  which 
only  the  Russians,  the  English  and  the  Danes  seem  to  possess. 
The  fact  that  Prince  Dimitri  had  his  wife  there  did  not  prevent 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  Les  Boufions,   1906. 

Photo,  Henri  MamidJ] 

p.  260. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  261 

him  paying  attention  to  me,  and  I  had  a  wonderful  time.     I  could 
have  stayed  in  Russia  for  ever. 

We  did  not  play  in  the  Winter  Palace,  but  gave  a  gala  per- 
formance for  their  Imperial  Majesties  at  the  National  Theatre. 
It  was  private,  in  that  no  seats  were  sold  and  could  be  obtained 
only  through  invitations  sent  out  by  the  Court  Chamberlain  ; 
but  when  we  saw  the  vast  throng  crowding  the  theatre  it  looked 
as  if  all  Russia  was  there.  And  all  wealthy  and  titled  Russia 
probably  was,  for  we  heard  that  special  trains  had  been  made  up 
to  bring  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  sightseers  "  from  Moscow  and  other 
famous  cities.     We  were  not  to  visit  Moscow  on  this  trip. 

I  have  heard  many  people  say  that  anyone  who  has  visited 
Russia  can  talk  of  nothing  else  and  always  longs  to  return  there. 
I  can  testify  that  this  is  true  in  my  case  ;  and  I  know  also  that  it 
was  true  in  the  case  of  Sarah  Bernhardt  who  returned  to  Russia 
three  times  and  always  spoke  of  the  land  of  the  Tsars  with  the 
warmest  affection  and  feeling. 

I  remember  a  gracious  remark  made  by  the  Empress,  a  woman 
of  no  great  stature  and  with  evident  marks  of  trouble  on  her  sweet 
and  modest  face.  When  Sarah  was  presented  and  dropped 
her  curtsey  before  her,   she  said  : 

"  I  think,  my  dear,  that  I  should  be  the  one  to  bow  !  " 

I  thought  it  one  of  the  most  exquisite  tributes  I  had  ever 

We  played  Francois  Coppee's  Le  Passant,  La  Dame  aux 
Camelias,  Hernani,  and  L'Aventuriere.  The  Emperor  chose  Le 
Passant  for  the  Command  Performance,  and  Sarah  greatly 
appreciated  his  choice. 

"  He  must  be  a  poet  himself  !     He  looks  like  one  !  "  she  said. 

262  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

This  observation  came  to  the  Emperor's  ears,  and  after  the 
command  performance  was  over  he  came  down  from  his  box  on  to 
the  stage  and  shook  hands  with  Sarah  warmly. 

"  You  are  the  most  wonderful  actress  we  have  ever  seen  in 
Russia,  mademoiselle  !  "  he  said,  "  and  one  does  not  need  to  be  a 
poet  to  appreciate  you  !  " 

Alexander  II.  presented  her  with  a  magnificent  brooch,  set 
with  diamonds  and  emeralds,  as  a  remembrance  of  the  occasion. 
She  "  lost  "  it  on  one  of  her  trips  to  South  America. 

What  jewels  that  woman  lost  or  sold  !  The  total  would  have 
staggered  belief,  had  it  ever  become  known.  I  suppose  no  actress 
ever  possessed,  at  varying  times,  such  wonderful  jewels  as  did 
Sarah  Bernhardt.  Yet  when  her  collection  of  gems  was  sold  by 
auction  in  Paris  after  her  death,  most  of  the  articles  were  found 
to  be  paste,  and  the  whole  collection  fetched  only  a  few  thousand 
francs,  and  that  chiefly  for  sentimental  reasons. 

Damala  and  Sarah  were  seen  together  everywhere.  He  took 
her  about,  introduced  her  into  that  class  of  society  to  which  he 
belonged  by  virtue  of  his  official  position,  and  seemed  wildly 
infatuated  with  her.  Whether  it  was  really  infatuation,  or  simply 
the  desire  to  capture  the  love  and  be  seen  in  the  company  of  the 
most  famous  woman  of  her  epoch,  I  shall  leave  to  my  readers  to 

To  me  Damala  was  the  most  cold-blooded,  cynical  and  worth- 
less individual  whom  I  had  ever  met.  I  could  not  bear  the  sight 
of  him.  His  very  touch  revolted  me.  And  my  feelings  were 
shared  by  most  of  the  company,  so  that  when  Sarah  casually 
announced  one  day  that  Damala  had  resigned  his  official  position 
in  order  to  join  her  company,  we  were  all  more  indignant  than 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  263 

astonished.     It  had  been  evident  from  the  first  that  he  meant 
leaving  St.  Petersburg  when  she  did. 

What  Sarah  saw  in  him  I  am  at  a  loss  to  imagine.  He  was 
still  extremely  handsome — "  beautiful  "  would  be  a  better  descrip- 
tion. He  affected  extreme  dandyism  in  dress,  and  was  eccentric 
in  many  of  his  habits. 

He  was  still  coolly  nonchalant  in  his  dealings  with  Sarah  and 
in  this  he  was  wise,  for  it  was  this  cynical  attitude  of  his,  this 
disdain  of  her  greatness  and  success,  which  had  first  attracted 
her  to  him  and  which  continued  to  hold  her  interest  and  pique 
her  curiosity. 

Once  get  a  woman  curious  about  a  man,  to  the  extent  of 
wishing  to  seek  his  company,  and  the  rest  follows  as  night  the 
day.  .  .  . 

To  other  people,  Damala  would  praise  Sarah  wildly. 
"  She  is  the  sun,  the  moon  and  the  stars  !  "he  would  exclaim. 
"  She  is  Queen  of  the  World  !     She  is  divine  !  " 

Sometimes  these  verbal  extravagances  reached  Sarah's  ears, 
but  she  never  believed  he  had  uttered  them  !  This  was  com- 
prehensible enough,  for  when  he  was  with  her  his  attitude  was 
as  different  as  possible. 

On  some  occasions  he  actually  treated  her  as  an  inferior  ! 
He  would  criticise  her  dress,  her  manner  of  doing  her  hair,  her 
acting,  her  views  on  any  subject,  her  deportment,  her  speech. 
He  was  always  finding  fault  with  her,  and  Sarah  would  fly  into  the 
most  frightful  rages  when  he  carried  his  sarcasms  too  far. 

A  hundred  times  she  would  cast  him  from  her,  with  stormy 
admonitions  never  to  come  near  her  again,  a  hundred  times  she 
declared  violently  that   she  could  not   bear  the  sight  of  him, 

264  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

despised  him,  and  refused  to  take  such  treatment  from  anybody, 
let  alone  a  "  Greek  Gypsy."  This  was  her  pet  piece  of  invective, 
for,  as  she  was  aware,  it  had  the  merit  of  piercing  Damala's 
thick  hide.  As  a  matter  of  fact,  Damala  was  every  inch  an 
aristocrat,  even  though  he  was  a  particularly  degenerate  one. 

In  reply  to  these  wild  outbreaks  on  Sarah's  part,  Damala  would 
adopt  a  peculiarly  irritating  attitude.  He  would  take  her  at  her 
word,  leave  her,  and  then  send  a  note  to  the  effect  that  he  was  glad 
to  have  rid  himself  at  last  of  such  an  incubus  ! 

Then  he  would  stay  away  from  her  until  she  came  to  him 
and  begged  to  be  forgiven.  That  was  what  he  wished  and  liked  ; 
that  was  the  pleasure  his  liaison  with  Sarah  Bernhardt  gave 
him — the  idea  of  a  proud  and  beautiful  creature,  idolised  by 
two  continents,  crawling  to  him,  Damala,  on  her  knees,  for 
forgiveness  ! 

He  would  let  people  know  about  it,  too. 

"  I  had  my  proud  Sarah  on  her  knees  last  night,"  he  would 
say,  "  but  I  refused  to  forgive  her  ;  she  has  not  yet  been  punished 
enough !  " 

What  a  brute  the  man  waS' — but  how  well  he  knew  women  ! 

The  worse  he  treated  her,  the  more  she  became  his  slave. 
The  more  sarcastic  he  became,  the  humbler  was  she.  It  had  from 
the  first  been  a  struggle  between  two  arrogant  natures,  and  Damala 
had  woU' — for  the  time  being.  There  came  a  day,  however, 
when  his  victory  seemed  empty  enough. 

St.  Petersburg  talked  much  of  Sarah's  affair  with  Damala, 
as  may  be  supposed.  The  two  were  so  open  about  it.  The  Court, 
and  the  gentle  little  Empress,  were  shocked.  There  were  no  more 
command  performances.     Russian  high  society  was  beginning 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  265 

to  look  askance  at  this  beautiful  genius,  who  was   so  scornful 
of  convention. 

The  code  in  Russia  was  that  a  man  could  do  what  he  liked.  If 
his  rank  was  high  enough,  he  could  commit  murder  without  losing 
caste.  But  a  woman  had  to  walk  within  a  strictly  defined  circle, 
which  was  drawn  by  the  Empress  herself.  Once  she  stepped 
beyond  that  circle  she  could  never  get  a  footing  inside  it  again. 
Sarah  had  stepped  outside,  and  she  did  not  care. 

Soon  after  this  we  left  St.  Petersburg,  but  not  before  an 
incident  occurred  which  will  bear  relating,  even  though  Sarah 
was  not  directly  concerned  in  it. 

We  were  playing  one  night  when,  during  the  third  entr'acte, 
I  received  a  message  from  a  call-boy  who  looked  very  awed  and 
yet  very  important. 

"  The  Grand  Duke  V — —  desires  that  you  will  go  to  his  box," 
was  the  message. 

Grand  Dukes  counted  for  little  in  my  life  and  I,  a  Republican 
to  the  backbone,  was  vexed  at  the  peremptory  fashion  in  which 
the  request  was  framed. 

"  Tell  His  Imperial  Highness  that  I  am  not  in  the  habit  of 
going  to  private  boxes  during  a  performance  !  "  I  said. 

The  boy  looked  a  little  startled,  but  took  my  reply.  In  a 
few  minutes  he  was  back. 

This  time  there  was  no  mistaking  the  character  of  the 

"  His  Imperial  Highness  presents  his  compliments  to  Mademois- 
elle Therese,  and  wishes  to  inform  her  that  he  will  await  her  for 
supper,  after  the  performance." 

In  consternation  I  went  to  see  Sarah. 

266  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  What  shall  I  do  ?  "  I  asked.  "  I  can't  go  to  supper  with 
the  man  !  " 

"  Tell  him  to  go  away,  then  !  "  suggested  Sarah,  who  had  not 
taken  much  interest  in  my  story.  But  another  member  of 
the  company,  who  knew  Russia  well,  held  up  his  hands  in 

"  You  can't  do  that — it  would  be  disobeying  a  Royal  com- 
mand !  "  he  exclaimed.  "  When  a  Grand  Duke  puts  a  message 
in  that  form,  it  admits  of  but  one  reply.  You  will  have  to  go  to 
supper  with  him  !  " 

"  I  won't  !  "  I  replied,  obstinately  decided. 

"  Then  you  will  be  thrown  into  prison  !  " 

"  What  !  ThrowTi  into  prison  because  I  refuse  to  sup  with 
a  Grand  Duke  ?     What  a  ridiculous  idea  !  " 

"  It's  true,  none  the  less.  These  men  wield  an  enormous 
power.  A  mere  word  from  them,  and  you  would  disappear  and 
never  be  heard  of  again,  and  Grand  Duke  V — • —  is  the  worst 
of  the  lot.     You  must  remember  that  this  is  Russia  !  " 

I  was  now  terribly  frightened.  I  looked  for  Sarah  again,  but 
she  had  disappeared. 

"  What  shall  I  do  ?  "  I  inquired  of  Pierre  Berton,  who  had 
always  been  most  kind  to  me. 

"  I  will  go  to  His  Highness  and  tell  him  you  are  ill,"  he  suggested. 
But  I  would  not  hear  of  Pierre  getting  himself  into  trouble  over 

So,  after  the  performance,  I  waited  in  fear  and  trembling  in 
my  dressing-room.  Several  other  members  of  the  company 
were  there  also,  curious  and  disturbed  as  to  the  outcome,  while 
Pierre  Berton  had  a  positively  ferocious  expression  on  his  face. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  267 

He  looked  as  though  he  would  like  to  eat  all  the  Grand  Dukes  in 

This  was  the  first  intimation  I  had  had  regarding  the  true 
state  of  Berton's  feelings  towards  me.  His  declaration  of  love  and 
our  marriage  did  not  come  until  years  later. 

Finally  the  Grand  Duke  came  in.  He  was  in  full  evening 
dress,  and  when  seen  near  at  hand  appeared  a  most  amiable 

He  bowed  to  the  company,  and  when  one  of  the  ladies  dropped 
a  curtsey,  his  eyes  twinkled.  I  was  thoroughly  frightened,  but 
when  he  held  out  his  arm  to  me,  I  stepped  forward  in  spite  of 
myself.  He  was  so  thoroughly  courteous  !  Berton  blurted  out 
something  indistinguishable,  but  fortunately  did  not  interfere 
I  went  out  with  my  Grand  Duke. 

Well,  the  story  has  not  the  ending  the  reader  may  have  been 
led  to  expect.  The  supper  was  a  gay  one,  but  all  the  men  present 
behaved  themselves  quite  properly  and  the  Grand  Duke  was  more 
like  a  father  to  me  than  a  lover.  Afterwards,  he  took  me  for 
a  ride  in  his  open  barouche,  and  then  accompanied  me 

At  the  hotel,  when  they  saw  who  had  brought  me  back,  they 
received  me  with  open  mouths.  It  was  the  Hotel  Demouth,  a 
little  place  but  very  smart,  opposite  the  statue  of  Catherine  the 
Great.  I  had  moved  there  because  the  European  was  too 

The  manager  himself  escorted  me  upstairs  to  my  room  and 
bowed  me  in.     I  had  become  a  personage  ! 

I  told  Sarah  about  it  the  next  day,  and  she  complimented 

268  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  However,"  she  said,  "  nothing  would  have  happened  to 
you  if  you  had  not  gone  !  That  same  Grand  Duke  wanted  me  to 
dine  with  him  the  other  night,  and  I  said  I  would  if  I  could  bring 
Damala,  and  that  finished  it  !  " 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  269 


Of  all  the  tragic  episodes  that  abounded  in  the  life  of  Sarah 
Bernhardt,  her  marriage  was  probably  the  most  tragic. 

The  one  man  whom  she  adored  sufficiently  to  marry 
betrayed  her  love,  made  her  a  ridiculous  spectacle  in  the  eyes  of 
her  theatrical  comrades,  ill-treated  her  to  the  extent  of  actual 
cruelty,  and,  after  spoiling  her  life  for  seven  years,  died  a  victim 
of  morphine. 

Nobody  knows  what  caused  their  decision  to  marry.  I  know 
only  one  thing,  namely,  that  not  a  member  of  the  company  was 
aware  of  their  intention  until  a  few  hours  before  the  actual  cere- 
mony ;  and  then  only  Pierre  Berton,  Jeanne  Bernhardt,  Mary 
Jullien,  and  Madame  Devoyod  were  let  into  the  secret. 

I  was  taken  ill  on  the  voyage  home  from  Russia  and  Sarah 
thought  it  best  for  me  to  return  to  France.  Thus  I  did  not  go  on 
to  London  with  the  company,  and  joined  it  only  when  it  returned 
through  Paris,  on  its  way  to  Italy. 

What  I  know  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  marriage  is  therefore  hear- 
say— only  what  Pierre  Berton  told  me.  The  event  must  have  made 
him  miserable,  poor  man !  I  am  sure  he  adored  Sarah  still,  although 
weary  of  her  caprices. 

Berton  was  a  very  conscientious  and  honourable  man  ;  and 
his  was  the  restraining  influence  in  the  Bernhardt  company, 
whereby  many  pitfalls  were  avoided  owing  to  his  sage  counsel 

270  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Sarah  Bernhardt 's  once  tender  feeling  for  him  had  changed  into 
one  of  extreme  respect.  She  recognised  the  power  of  his  intellect 
and  admired  his  wisdom,  and  never  forsook  him,  both  because  he 
was  a  marvellous  actor  of  great  drawing  power  and  because  he  was 
a  counter-balance  in  the  scales  to  outweigh  her  ruinous  escapades. 

A  great  many  of  the  company,  having  very  good  reason  to 
hate  Damala,  desired  to  leave  at  once,  when  Sarah  married  him  ; 
and  it  was  Pierre  Berton  who  persuaded  them  to  stay  on  in 
order  to  support  Sarah  in  the  trials  which  he  knew  she  would 
shortly  have  to  endure. 

Sarah  and  Damala  may  have  decided  to  marry  during  the 
voyage  from  Russia  ;  but  knowing  them  both  as  I  did,  I  am  in- 
clined to  believe  the  thing  was  arranged  on  the  spur  of  the 

One  could  and  can  do  such  things  in  London.  They  are 
impossible  in  Paris,  where  the  consent  of  parents  is  obligatory, 
even  in  the  case  of  those  who  are  no  longer  minors,  and  where  at 
least  a  month  is  always  consumed  in  absurd  preliminaries  and 
red  tape. 

I  firmly  believe  that,  had  it  been  necessary  for  Sarah  to  get 
married  in  France,  she  would  never  have  done  it  !  Such  a 
decision,  in  her  case,  required  to  be  made  and  carried  out  prac- 
tically on  the  spot,  while  she  was  under  the  influence  of  one  of  her 
fantastic  moods.  Marriage  to  her,  I  am  sure,  was  not  the  solemn, 
semi-religious  event  that  it  is  in  the  lives  of  most  women.  For 
her  it  was  merely  another  escapade' — the  crowning  one,  if  you 

Almost  everything  else  on  the  list  of  follies  she  had  committed* 
Why  not  marriage  ? 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  271 

That,  at  any  rate,  is  the  opinion  I  have  always  held.  But 
Berton  had  a  graver  conception  of  the  matter. 

In  his  view  Sarah  was  so  tremendously  infatuated  by  Damala 
that  she  married  him  to  make  him  wholly  hers.  He  used 
to  say  : 

"  She  lived  in  constant  terror  that  Damala's  fancy  would 
change,  that  some  other  woman  would  cross  his  path,  and  that 
he  would  leave  her. 

"  She  was  completely  under  the  fellow's  domination.  If  any 
good  man,  of  high  and  noble  principles,  had  offered  Sarah  his 
name,  she  would  have  refused  him  scornfully ;  she  would  have 
answered  that  she  would  tie  her  life  to  no  man's. 

"  But  with  Damala  it  was  another  matter.  It  was  she  who 
desired  passionately  to  hold  him- — not  the  reverse.  At  least,  such 
is  my  belief.  Sarah  too,  when  she  remembered  how  easily  she 
had  fallen  a  victim  to  it  herself,  was  often  much  perturbed 
at  seeing  how  quickly  women  were  captured  by  Damala's  fatal 

"  She  could  think  of  no  way  to  bind  him  to  her  except  by 
marriage.  So,  despite  her  distaste  for  the  orthodox  union,  she 
determined  on  the  ceremony. 

"  She  waited  until  we  got  to  London,  where  such  things  can 
be  done  over-night,  and  then  took  advantage  of  one  of  Damala's 
affectionate  spells  to  persuade  him  to  marry  her.  He  agreed ; 
a  priest  was  sent  for,  and  they  were  married' — all  in  the  space  of 
a  few  hours." 

Damala  always  declared  this  version  to  be  true — that  it  was 
Sarah  who  proposed  to  him  and  not  he  to  her.  Moreover,  in 
fits  of  temper,  he  would  tell  her  so  before  the  whole  company. 

272  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  If  I  had  not  been  crazy  I  would  not  have  been  caught  so 
easily  !  "  he  would  cry,  beating  the  air  with  his  arms. 

By  marrying  Damala,  Sarah  thought  to  bind  him  to  her.  It 
was  the  supreme  mistake  of  her  life.  Instead  of  keeping  him, 
she  lost  him. 

She  simply  exchanged  a  lover  for  a  husband,  and  many  women 
have  found  to  their  cost  what  that  means.  Sarah's  disillusion- 
ment came  only  three  weeks  later. 

Until  the  marriage,  Damala  had  been  more  or  less  faithful  to 
Sarah — as  faithful  as  a  nature  like  his  allowed.  But  he  had 
scarcely  stepped  down  from  the  altar  with  his  bride,  than  he 
began  betraying  her  right  and  left. 

He  demanded  that  she  should  change  her  stage  name  to 
"  Sarah  Damala  "  in  his  honour,  and  when  she  refused  he  walked 
out  of  the  house  and  disappeared. 

Performances  had  to  be  abandoned  during  the  three  days  he 
was  away.  Sarah  was  absolutely  frantic.  She  was  ready  to 
believe  anything- — that  he  had  deserted  her  for  good,  that  he 
had  fallen  into  the  Thames,  that  he  had  run  away  to  France,  that 
he  had  committed  suicide,  that  he  had  gone  away  with  another 

This  last  theory — and  Sarah  would  rather  have  lost  an  arm 
than  that  it  should  have  been  found  true — was  the  correct  one. 
Damala,  previous  to  his  marriage  and  unknown  to  Sarah,  had 
struck  up  a  friendship  with  a  Norwegian  girl  whom  he  had  met 
on  board  ship.  It  was  with  her  that  he  spent  those  three  days, 
scarcely  a  week  after  his  marriage  to  Sarah. 

Paris,  which  had  gasped  at  the  news  of  the  wedding,  was 
in  spasms  of  mirth  at  this  new  unhappiness  which  had  over- 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  273 

taken  Sarah.  It  so  perfectly  agreed  with  what  everyone  had 

"  She  is  mad  !  "  said  Auguste  Dane,  the  writer,  when  he  heard 
of  the  marriage  through  a  letter  that  Berton  wrote  to  me.  "  He 
will  leave  her  within  a  week  !  " 

I  remember  the  words  so  well,  because  they  so  nearly  came 

In  a  few  days  Damala  returned,  to  find  Sarah  ill  from  anxiety 
and  bruised  pride.  God  knows  what  his  excuses  were,  what 
methods  he  took  to  win  his  pardon  !  A  woman  in  love  is  ever 
ready  to  believe,  and  Sarah  was  no  exception. 

The  next  day  they  were  together  again  as  usual. 

The  company  went  to  Ostend,  where  it  played  five  nights. 
On  the  last  night  Damala  disappeared  again,  and  was  heard  from 
two  days  later  in  Brussels,  whither  he  had  gone  with  a  pretty 
Belgian  acquaintance. 

He  rejoined  Sarah  in  Paris,  and  Sarah  forgave  him  again. 
He  would  pretend  to  be  ill  and  win  her  pity ;  and  once  pity  takes 
the  place  of  resentment  in  a  woman's  heart  it  is  not  difficult  for 
a  clever  man  to  obtain  everything  he  wishes. 

With  every  month  of  their  married  life,  Damala's  behaviour 
deteriorated.  It  began  to  be  said  of  him  that  he  was  the  most 
unfaithful  husband  in  all  France,  which  was  saying  a  good  deal. 

"  I  saw  Damala  at  the  theatre  last  night,"  somebody  would 

"  With  Sarah  ?  " 

"  Sarah  ?  No,  of  course  not,  imbecile  !  Sarah  is  now  his 
wife  !  " 

And  so  it  went  on. 

274  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Accustomed  to  facile  successes  with  women,  Damala  carried 
his  infidelities  to  extremes.  In  almost  every  town  they  visited 
there  was  a  new  betrayal  to  register  ;  and  Damala  now  scarcely 
took  the  trouble  to  conceal  his  double  life  from  Sarah. 

One  can  imagine  the  mortification  all  this  caused  to  such  a 
proud  nature  as  hers. 

From  being  the  idol  of  two  hemispheres  she  was  fast  becoming 
(as  she  knew  well)  the  laughing-stock  of  France  ;  and  the  sole 
reason  for  her  misfortunes  was  her  insane  action  in  marrying  a 
man  who  did  not  understand  even  the  first  principles  of  honour. 
In  place  of  a  ring  he  had  given  her  a  cross  to  bear  ;  and  the 
cross  was  the  condescending  amusement  of  the  multitudes  who, 
a  few  months  previously,  had  been  ready  to  fall  down  and  worship 
her  as  a  demi-goddess. 

"  She  cannot  be  much,  after  all,"  said  the  man  in  the  street. 
"  See,  her  husband  betrays  her  right  before  her  eyes  !  " 

"  All  those  stories  about  her  must  have  been  true  !  "  thought 
the  staid  and  virtuous  members  of  society.  "  Even  her  husband 
cannot  live  with  her  for  more  than  a  month  !  " 

The  cruellest  fact  about  mob-psychology  is  that  a  mob  is 
invariably  ready  to  believe  the  worst.  The  Parisians  now 
discovered  with  in  tense  satisfaction  that  their  idol's  feet  were 
made  of  clay. 

"  C'est  le  ridicule  qui  tue,"  declared  a  great  French  essa3nst. 
Ridicule  was  killing  Sarah. 

Never  before  had  I  seen  Sarah  Bernhardt  suffer  so  fearfully 
from  the  ravages  of  jealousy,  nor  did  she  ever  suffer  so  again. 

Her  face,  within  a  few  short  months,  lost  that  girlish  look  which 
had  been  its  greatest  charm.     Lines  came  to  features  that  had 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  275 

previously  been  clear  of  them.  She  became  dispirited  ;  could  not 
be  consoled  ;  would  sit  for  hours  by  herself  ;  seemed  to  take  little 
interest  in  what  was  going  on  about  her. 

Then  Damala  would  return,  like  a  truant  schoolboy  ;  and,  after 
the  usual  scene  of  anger,  all  would  be  well — until  the  next  time. 

"  Tu  esfolle — ilfaut  prendre  ton  parti ! "  ("  You  are  foolish' — 
you  should  make  up  your  mind  to  make  the  best  of  it !  ")  I  told 
her  repeatedly. 

One  day  at  Genoa,  Damala  and  an  actress,  whom  Sarah  had 
dismissed  on  suspicion  of  a  liaison  with  her  husband,  left  the 
company  and  went  to  Monte  Carlo. 

Sarah  was  seized  with  a  frantic  fit  of  jealousy,  stopped  all 
performances  (in  spite  of  the  tremendous  loss  this  occasioned  her); 
and  wrote  letters  every  hour  pleading  with  Damala  to  return. 

The  only  reply  he  made  to  these  overtures  was  a  curt  note  in 
which  he  informed  her  that  he  had  lost  80,000  francs  gambling 
at  baccarat,  and  that  if  she  would  send  him  this  money  he  would 
come  back  at  once. 

Sarah  sent  the  enormous  sum  and  Damala  kept  his  word. 
He  returned — but  still  with  the  actress  ! 

There  was  a  tremendous  scene  in  the  lobby  of  the  Genoese 
hotel  where  we  were  staying.  Sarah's  rage  was  directed  against 
the  woman.  She  ranted  against  her,  threatened  her  with  every- 
thing from  physical  violence  to  criminal  proceedings,  and  ended 
by  ordering  her  out  of  the  hotel. 

"  She  has  come  back  for  the  money  you  owe  her !  "  said 

C'etait  le  comhle  !  Sarah  went  straight  into  hysterics.  But 
when  she  recovered  the  woman  was  still  there,  and,  moreover,  had 

276  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

a  legal  claim  on  her  for  her  wages,  so  that  Sarah  was  forced  to 

After  this  incident  she  had  a  respite  from  matrimonial  storms 
for  several  weeks.  Her  world  revolved  in  and  about  Damala, 
whom  (at  his  own  request)  she  created  managing-director  of  the 
company,  with  his  name,  as  such,  billed  in  large  type  everywhere. 

This  request  of  Damala's  was  his  undoing.  It  opened  Sarah's 
eyes  as  nothing  else  could  have  done  to  the  real  worthlessness 
of  the  man  she  had  made  her  husband. 

Damala  she  knew  to  be  congenitally  unfaithful,  but  her 
pride  could  not  endure  the  further  discovery  that  she  had  married 
an  incompetent. 

As  manager  of  a  theatrical  company  on  tour  he  was  a  miser- 
able failure.  He  wasted  thousands  of  francs,  became  tangled  in 
his  accounts,  could  not  handle  other  people,  had  no  genius  what- 
ever for  organisation.  Had  it  not  been  for  their  affection  for 
Sarah,  the  members  of  the  company  would  have  voted  that  it 
should  be  disbanded. 

Foolish  contracts  were  made  with  theatres  in  strange  towns, 
hotel  arrangements  omitted,  trains  missed,  properties  lost — 
all  those  incidents  occurred  which  indicate  bad  management  and 
which  demoralise  a  company. 

To  avoid  a  crash,  Sarah  allowed  her  business  sense  to  domi- 
nate her  other  feelings,  and  there  was  a  welcome  return  of  her 
old  authoritative  character.  We  greeted  with  enthusiasm  her 
domineering  ways  in  place  of  Damala's  blundering  and  bullying 

From  Head  of  the  Company,  Damala  became  a  mere  Prince 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  277 

There  was  a  disgraceful  scene  when  she  made  her  decision 
known  to  him.  He  called  her  horrible  nameS' — "  long-nosed 
Jewess  "  was  one  of  the  milder  ones. 

Then,  characteristically,  he  had  his  revenge  by  making  open 
love  to  one  of  Sarah's  lesser  rivals. 

"  If  a  man  quit  me  for  a  Queen,"  said  Lady  Dudley,  in  the 
days  of  Elizabeth,  "  then  I  will  be  proud,  for  it  will  have  taken  the 
Queen  to  tear  him  from  me  ;  but  if  a  man  quit  me  for  a  Duchess, 
then  am  I  like  to  die  of  shame." 

Damala  had  quit  his  Queen  for  a  Duchess,  and  Sarah  was  "  like 
to  die  of  shame  "  ;  but  she  cured  herself  by  writing  Damala  a 
letter,  telling  him  never  to  return. 

Damala  did  return  the  next  day,  however,  and  in  Sarah's 
absence  carried  off  several  articles  of  considerable  value  belong- 
ing to  her.  This  happened  in  Paris  after  he  had  played  with 
her  in  a  piece  at  the  Porte  St.  Martin  theatre,  which  she 
had  just  purchased. 

Damala  then  returned  to  his  abandoned  diplomatic  career, 
but  his  habits  soon  forced  him  to  give  up  active  work. 

Despite  the  fact  that  she  had  been  born  a  Jewess  and  was  only 
baptised  into  the  Catholic  faith,  Sarah  had  strict  ideas  of  a  sort 
about  religion.  She  refused  to  divorce  Damala,  contenting  herself 
with  a  semi-legal  separation  whereby,  in  return  for  certain  sums 
she  sent  to  him  monthly,  he  agreed  never  to  re-enter  her  life. 

Five  years  later,  however,  Damala  sent  a  message  to  Sarah 
saying  that  he  was  dying  in  Marseilles  and  imploring  her  to  forgive 
him  and  take  him  back. 

The  strength  of  the  love  which  she  must  once  have  borne  him 
is  shown  by  the  fact  that,  immediately  she  received  this  message, 

278  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

she  abandoned  her  performances  in  Paris,  rushed  to  the  bedside 
of  her  husband — whom  she  found  wasted  from  disease  and  drugs 
— and  nursed  him  back  again  into  some  semblance  of  health. 

Damala  promised  to  leave  morphine  alone  and  they  went  on 
tour  together  ;  but  the  drug,  to  which  Jeanne  Bernhardt  had 
already  succumbed,  proved  too  strong  for  him. 

Once,  at  Milan,  he  was  nearly  arrested  for  exhibiting  himself 
naked  at  the  Hotel  de  Ville  (which  is  an  hotel  and  not  a  town  hall) . 
His  body  was  a  mass  of  sores  occasioned  by  the  drug. 

I  was  a  member  of  the  company  on  the  famous  tour  Sarah 
made  with  Damala  in  Turkey.  We  played  in  Constantinople  and 
Smyrna,  and  on  taking  the  boat  for  Cairo  we  ran  into  a  terrible 

Three  times  we  tried  to  get  into  the  Bay  of  Alexandria,  and 
each  time  failed.  Finally  the  ship  was  anchored  until  calmer 
weather  came,  Sarah  was  violently  sick,  and,  on  recovering, 
asked  the  steward  to  bring  her  the  delicacies  she  had  had  brought 
on  board  for  her  own  special  use  at  table. 

These  delicacies  included  several  cases  of  champagne  and  others 
of  fruit  a.ndpdte  defoiegras,  of  which  Sarah  was  particularly  fond. 

Imagine  her  fury  when  the  steward  returned  with  the  informa- 
tion that  Damala  had  eaten  all  the  fruit  and  had  consumed  all 
the  champagne,  and  that  nothing  was  left  for  Sarah  except  the 
regular  rough  fare  of  the  steamer. 

Shortly  before  his  death,  Damala  was  given  a  part  by  Sarah 
in  the  play  Lena,  at  the  Theatre  des  Varietes.  During  the 
second  performance  he  was  so  drunk  that  he  could  not  say  a  word. 

A  few  weeks  later  he  died.  Sarah  was  with  him  until  the 
last.     This  was  in  1889. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  279 


Except  that  those  seven  fearful  years  left  their  inevitable  traces 
upon  her  appearance  and  mind,  Sarah's  imprudent  marriage  had 
wonderfully  little  effect  upon  her  after  life. 

Moreover,  she  never  renounced  the  name  of  Damala,  which 
remained  her  legal  name  until  she  died,  though  few  people  knew  it. 

During  the  war  the  fact  that  she  was  legally  a  Greek  caused 
her  much  annoyance,  and  once  when  there  was  a  danger  that 
King  Constantine  might  throw  his  country  into  the  war  on  the  side 
of  the  Germans,  she  saw  herself  actually  refused  a  visa  to  her 
passport  by  an  officious  nobody  in  a  consular  office  at  Bordeaux. 

"  But  I  am  Sarah  Bernhardt,  sir  !  "   she  exclaimed. 

"  My  orders  are  not  to  grant  visas  to  Greeks,"  said  the  official 
stolidly.    "  This  passport  is  a  Greek  one  and  I  will  not  endorse  it." 

It  required  a  special  telegram  from  the  Minister  of  the  Interior 
himself  before  the  obstinate  clerk  could  be  persuaded  to  change 
his  mind. 

Sarah  wore  mourning  for  Damala  for  a  year,  but  his  death  did 
not  put  a  stop  to  her  theatrical  activities.  If  anything,  she  cast 
herself  into  her  work  with  more  eagerness  than  ever. 

The  seven  years  of  her  marriage  with  Damala  had  been  dis- 
tinguished by  Sarah's  first  essay  in  theatrical  management.  To- 
wards the  end  of  1882  she  acquired  the  lesseeship  of  the  Ambigu 
Theatre — the   play-house   where,  fifteen   years   earlier,  she  had 

28o  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

been  refused  a  part  by  Chilly.  It  was  announced  that  her  son, 
Maurice  Bernhardt,  was  to  be  manager. 

It  is  doubtful  whether  Maurice  ever  did  any  active  manage- 
ment. He  had  little  aptitude  for  such  work,  and  Sarah  was  the 
supervising  genius  both  at  the  Ambigu  and  the  other  theatres 
which  she  subsequently  acquired. 

It  was  at  the  Ambigu  that  Sarah  launched  Jean  Richepin. 
She  mounted  his  play  La  Glu,  which  obtained  an  enormous 
success.  She  also  played  Les  Meres  Ennemies,  by  Catulle 

Exactly  on  what  occasion  Sarah  Bernhardt  and  Jean  Riche- 
pin were  brought  together  I  cannot  say.  I  think  they  had  known 
each  other  for  a  considerable  period  before  their  real  association 
began.  Sarah  was  much  attracted  to  Richepin,  who  had  a 
temperament  very  similar  to  hers  by  all  accounts. 

Richepin's  life  had  been  almost  as  fantastically  varied  and 
adventurous  as  Sarah's  own.  He  had  been  born  of  rich  and 
influential  parents,  and  educated  at  the  Paris  Normal  School, 
an  institution  of  considerable  importance. 

He  gave  many  evidences  of  precocity  during  his  schooldays, 
and,  after  graduating,  scandalised  his  former  teachers  and  school- 
mates by  impertinently  opening  up  a  fried-potato  stand  just 
outside  the  school  gates.  It  was  a  way  of  expressing  his 
individuality  and  his  scorn  of  pedantries. 

After  that  he  became  a  vagabond,  journeying  through  the 
provinces  of  France  on  foot,  sometimes  begging  his  bread  and 
sometimes  working  at  odd  trades  for  it. 

Of  an  extreme  suppleness  of  body  and  delighting  in  acro- 
batics, he  finally  obtained  a  job  in  a  travelling  circus,  where  he 

Sarah  Bernhardt  in  her  Studio  Dress. 

p.  280. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  281 

was  destined  to  meet  the  woman  whom  he  afterwards  made  his 
first  wife. 

From  then  on  he  became  an  actor,  unattached  to  any  particular 
theatre  at  first,  but  gradually  taking  parts  of  increasing  importance 
until  he  wrote  Nana  Sahib,  in  which  he  played  with  Sarah  Bern- 
hardt. This  play  laid  the  real  foundations  of  a  fortune  and 
celebrity  which  to-day  are  both  considerable. 

While  they  were  playing  together  in  Nana  Sahib,  Sarah's  great 
rival  on  the  stage  was  Marie  Colombier,  the  friend  of  the  author 

The  whole  city  was  divided  into  two  camps,  the  Bernhardt 
camp  and  the  Colombier  camp,  and  there  was  tremendous 
venom  displayed  on  both  sides. 

Performances  at  the  theatre  in  which  Marie  Colombier  was 
playing  would  be  enlivened  by  bands  of  "  Saradoteurs,"  who, 
taking  possession  of  the  galleries,  would  hoot  and  hiss  and  whistle 
until  the  curtain  was  rung  down. 

The  next  night  there  would  be,  as  like  as  not,  a  similar  scene 
in  Sarah's  theatre,  and  often  the  police  would  be  obliged  to 
interfere  to  prevent  a  battle  royal  between  the  opposing  factions. 

Two-thirds  of  the  contents  of  Sarah's  letter-bag  consisted  of 
flowers  and  presents  ;  the  other  third  of  insulting  anonymous 

A  score  of  times  Richepin  offered  to  challenge  Bonnetain  to  a 
duel  on  Sarah's  behalf,  but  was  dissuaded  from  doing  so. 

Finally  Bonnetain  wrote  a  book  about  Sarah,  which  was  signed 
by  Marie  Colombier  and  entitled  "  Sarah  Barnum."  Bamum  and 
Bailey's  Circus  was  then  the  greatest  attraction  of  Europe. 

None  of  the  names  in  the  book  were  real,  of  course,  but  they 

282  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

were  so  cleverly  disguised  that  everyone  in  Paris  knew  for  whom 
they  were  intended,  though  any  proof  might  be  impossible. 

Sarah  had  no  remedy  in  the  courts,  so  she  took  her  revenge 
in  another  way.  She  and  Jean  Richepin- — at  least,  the  way  in 
which  the  book  was  written  certainly  greatly  resembled  Richepin's 
well-known  style- — wrote  and  published  a  volume  in  reply  which 
was  entitled  "  Marie  Pigeonnier,"  and  in  which  exactly  the  same 
tactics  were  followed. 

The  two  books  convulsed  Paris  and  the  several  editions  were 
quickly  exhausted.  Sarah's  friends  bought  up  "  Sarah  Barnum," 
and  Marie  Colombier's  friends  purchased  all  they  could  find  of 
"  Marie  Pigeonnier."  Sarah  herself  spent  10,000  francs  in 
buying  up  every  copy  of  the  "  Sarah  Barnum  "  book  she  could 
lay  hands  on. 

A  few  copies  escaped,  however,  and  these  can  be  found  in 
certain  Paris  libraries  to-day. 

They  were  really  very  clever  books,  beautifully  written  and 
full  of  very  effective  satire. 

Marie  Colombier,  in  "  Sarah  Barnum,"  accused  Sarah  of 
drinking  too  much  whisky,  and  Sarah  Bernhardt  retorted  by 
asserting  that  Marie  Pigeonnier  delighted  in  absinthe.  It  was 
an  amusing  although  scarcely  polite  controversy  ! 

Jean  Richepin  is  now  one  of  the  great  and  respected  men  of 
France.  His  romantic  youth  is  almost  forgotten  in  the  eminent 
respectability  of  his  age.  He  is  probably  France's  most  prolific 
classic  author,  and  though  he  quarrelled  bitterly  with  Sarah 
Bernhardt,  his  warm  regard  for  her  persisted  until  her  death. 

Richepin  is  one  of  the  most  distinguished  living  members  of 
the  Academie    Francaise    and  of  the    Institut   de  France.     He 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  283 

is  credited  with  having  obtained  for  Sarah  Bernhardt  the  Legion 
of  Honour,  after  a  long  discussion  as  to  whether  an  actress  could 
be  awarded  a  distinction  which  had  hitherto  been  reserved  for 

Sarah  soon  abandonded  the  Ambigu  to  play  at  the  Vaudeville 
in  Feodora,  a  play  by  Victorien  Sardou.  This  had  been  arranged 
before  Sarah  left  for  America.  Raymond  Deslandes,  director 
of  the  Vaudeville,  paid  her  1,500  francs — sixty  pounds — per 

Later  on,  when  Sarah  took  over  the  management  of  the  Porte 
St.  Martin,  she  made  Duquesnel  director,  and  Sardou  and  Duques- 
nel  wished  her  to  launch  Theodora,  another  play  by  Sardou. 
Pierre  Berton  was  against  the  innovation,  and  urged  that  Feodora 
should  again  be  played.  Sarah  and  Berton  were  now  at  daggers 

"  My  compliments  "  (wrote  Sardou  to  my  husband  at  this 
time).  "  You  are  right  about  Feodora — that  is  better  than  a 
new  piece,  which  I  know  will  be  a  failure. 

"  But  why  do  you  wish  Sarah  to  play  Feodora  where  Gamier 
has  no  part  ?  It  is  Sarah,  which  is  to  say  Gamier,  who  leads 
everything  to-day  in  this  lunatic  asylum  of  which  Duquesnel 
thinks  he  is  the  director  but  of  which  he  is  only  a  pensionnaire." 

This  is  an  interesting  revelation  of  Sarah's  renewed  friend- 
ship for  Gamier,  whose  place  Damala  had  usurped  a  few  years 

Sardou's  letters  to  my  husband,  never  before  published,  throw 
a  light  on  the  dealings  of  the  great  actress  with  her  dramatists. 

284  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Here  is  one  showing  Sarah's  distaste  for  Berton's  persistent 
advice  : 


"  Je  regois  une  lettre  de  Sarah,  fulminante  confre  vous, 
et  qui  n'a  aucune  raison  d'etre.  Je  ne  sais  pas  ce  qu'elle  s'est 
figure  et  j'insiste  sur  le  mot.- — Car  je  me  suis  borne  a  dire  k 
Grau  que  je  vous  avais  vu,  et  que  vous  m'aviez  dit  qu'elle  allait 
jouer  La  Dame  {La  Dame  aux  Camillas)  ddcidement,  et  que  vous 
jouiez  Gaston — rien  de  plus  !  C'est  ce  que  j'^cris  a  Sarah,  en 
lui  declarant  que  sa  colere  est  insensee  en  ce  qui  vous  concerne. 
"  En  meme  temps  je  lui  dis  ce  que  je  pense  de  la  Dame  dans 
ces  conditions,  et  de  Duquesnel,  qui  la  force  a  la  jouer  et  qui 
ne  voit  pas  qu'en  cela  il  nuit  a  tout  le  monde,  a  Sarah,  k  moi,  a 
Dumas, ! !  et  a  lui-meme." 

After  this  Sardou  had  a  long  and  stormy  interview  with  Sarah, 
urging  her  to  play  Theodora  instead  of  La  Dame  aux  Camelias, 
on  which  she  and  Duquesnel  had  decided.  It  ended  in  the  great 
dramatist's  defeat,  and  while  his  anger  was  still  hot  he  sat  down 
and  wrote  to  Berton  : 


"  II  n'y  a  rien  a  faire  avec  cette  folle  qui  tue  la  poule 
aux  ceufs  d'or.  Je  connais  ses  projects — ^une  Maria  Padilla 
de  Mailhac  !  !  !  Maria  Padilla  !  !  Et  de  Meilhac  !  Et  une 
piece  de  Dumas  !  Elle  n'aura  ni  I'une  ni  I'autre,  et  compte 
alors  se  rattraper  sur  Froufrou.  Elle  va  jouer  Froufrou  alors 
de  septembre  en  mars  ! 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  285 

"  EUe  est  foUe,  et  plus  on  veut  la  tirer  de  I'affaire  plus  elle 
s'enfonce.  Quant  a  moi  j'en  suis  saoul  et  ne  veux  plus  entendre 
parler  d'elle.  Si  vous  avez  quelque  chose  d'utile  ci  me  dire, 
venez  me  voir  Dimanche  vers  quatre  heures,  car  je  suis  pris 
tous  les  autres  jours.  Demain  je  vous  aurais  bien  indique  une 
heure  a  Paris,  mais  je  n'aurai  pas  un  moment  a  moi,  et  samedi 
j'ai  conseil  municipal. 

"  Poignee  de  main, 

"  V.  Sardou." 

I  give  these  letters  in  the  original  French,  partly  because 
they  would  lose  greatly  in  translation,  and  partly  because  they 
have  never  before  been  seen  in  print,  and  are  therefore  an  interest- 
ing contribution  to  the  intimate  story  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  life. 

Some  phrases  in  the  above  are  worth  noting  :  "  Nothing  to 
be  done  with  this  idiot  who  is  killing  the  goose  that  lays  the  golden 
eggs  "  ;  "  She  is  crazy,  and  the  more  one  tries  to  save  her  the 
deeper  in  she  sinks  "  ;  "  As  to  me,  I  am  drunk  of  the  whole  affair 
and  don't  wish  to  hear  her  name  again  !  " 

Previous  to  the  production  of  Theodora  Sardou  wrote  to 
Berton : 


"  II  faudrait  plusieurs  pages  comme  celle-ci  pour  vous 
mettre  au  courant  des  negotiations  relatives  a  Theodora  et  au 
mouvement  tournant  opere  par  Sarah.  La  encore  une  fois  Duques- 
nel  a  recueilli  le  fruit  de  son  irresolution.  II  fallait  signer  avec 
Grau  le  lendemain  du  jour  ou  il  m'avait  dit  que  c'etait  chose 
faite.     Mais   vous   connaissez   I'homme.     Pour    ce    que    vous 

286  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

concerne  9a  a  ete  plus  simple.  Sarah  m'a  declare  qui  si  vous  deviez 
jouer  Andreas,  elle  ne  jouerait  pas  Theodora  en  tournee,  et  comma 
il  avait  deja  fortement  question  d'y  renoncer,  vu  la  certitude 
de  ne  pas  la  jouer  en  Belgique  et  en  Russie,  la  depense  du  materiel 
a  transporter  etc.,  etc.,  la  menace  ne  laissait  pas  d'avoir  un  cote 
serieux.  Cela  pouvait  se  traduire  pour  moi  par  une  perte  d'une 
vingtaine  de  mille  francs  ;  j'ai  du  capituler,  en  exigeant  toutefois 
que  si  vous  jouez  Justinien,  le  tableau  du  iv  acte,  qui  est  a 
lui,  fut  maintenu,  condition  formelle. 

"  II  est  bien  entendu  avec  Bertrand  qu'il  vous  engage  pour 
I'Eden,  et  nous  avons,  in  petto,  prevu  le  cas  Andreas.  Faites- 
vous  payer.  C'est  bien  le  moins  qu'on  vous  dedommage  des 
sottes  humiliations  que  vous  infligent  les  caprices  de  cceur  de 
la  grande  artiste.  J'espere  que  le  vent  tournera,  dans  le  cours 
de  ces  neuf  mois,  et  que  nous  verrons  une  fois  encore  Damala 
renvoye  a  I'office.  De  toute  fa9on,  ne  vous  brouillez  ni  avec, 
elle,  ni  avec  Bertrand,  en  vue  I'avenir.     Mille  bonnes  amities 

"  V.  Sardou." 

The  interesting  thing  about  the  above  letter  is,  of  course, 
the  proof  that  Sarah,  during  her  disagreements  with  Damala,  went 
back  to  Bert  on,  with  whom  she  subsequently  quarrelled  after  her 
reconciliation  with  Damala. 

The  phrases  which  stand  out  are  :  "  Sarah  declares  that  if 
you  play  Andreas  she  will  refuse  to  play  Theodora  on  tour  .  .  . 
which  will  mean  a  loss  to  me  of  20,000  francs  ...  I  was  thus 
obliged  to  consent  "  ;  "  Make  her  pay  you.  It  is  the  least 
return  they  can  make  for  the  low  humiliations  which  the 
caprices  of  heart  of  the  great  artiste  inflict  on  you."     "  By  all 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  287 

means,  do  not  break  with  Sarah  or  with  Bertrand,  because  of 
the  future." 

There  came  a  day,  however,  after  he  had  married  me,  when 
Pierre  Berton  could  no  longer  stand  these  humiliations  heaped  on 
him  by  Sarah.  He  retired  definitely  from  the  stage  to  devote 
himself  to  dramatisation,  his  most  successful  play  being  Zaza, 
which  was  an  enormous  success  both  in  England  and  America. 

288  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


During  the  rehearsals  of  Thdodora  at  the  Porte  St.  Martin, 
Richepin  invariably  accompanied  Sarah  Bernhardt  to  the 
theatre.  This  enraged  Victorien  Sardou,  for  it  was  then  and 
has  since  remained  a  matter  of  unwritten  theatrical  law  that  one 
dramatic  author  should  not  visit  the  rehearsals  of  another's  play. 

Eventually  Sardou  made  a  scene  one  afternoon  in  the  office 
of  Duquesnel,  the  manager.  I  happened  to  be  present,  having 
had  a  previous  appointment  with  Duquesnel. 

Beside  himself  with  anger  at  the  slights  she  was  constantly 
heaping  upon  him,  Sardou  abused  Sarah  and  Richepin,  coupling 
their  names  in  language  of  considerable  vigour. 

Sarah,  as  it  happened,  was  in  an  office  next  to  that  of  Duques- 
nel, and  heard  every  word.  Bounding  forth,  she  rushed  into 
Duquesnel's  office  and  cried : 

"  I  have  heard  all !  You  are  animals  and  pigs  !  Richepin 
is  an  Hre  delicieux !  I  will  not  remain  in  your  odious  theatre 
another  instant !  I  refuse  to  play  this  pig's  piece  !  " — indicating 
Sardou,  who  was  too  much  astounded  to  say  a  word. 

With  that  she  flounced  out  of  the  theatre,  leaving  us  in  doubt 
as  to  whether  the  play  could  continue. 

On  returning  to  her  house,  however,  she  was  met  by  her  maid, 
who  said  to  her  : 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  289 

"  Monsieur  Richepin  has  just  been  here  and  has  taken  away 
his  things.     He  has  left  madame  a  note." 

Sarah  tore  open  the  note  feverishly.  A  cry  of  mingled  rage 
and  despair  escaped  her.     It  was  a  note  of  adieu  ! 

Immediately  Sarah  sat  down  at  her  writing-table  and  wrote 
to  Sardou  and  to  Duquesnel : 

"  My  dear  friends, 

"  I  have  reflected,  you  are  quite  right ;  Richepin 
after  all  is  only  the  latest  of  these  voyous  whom  I  have  put  out  of 
my  door.     All  shall  be  as  you  wish. 

"  Sarah." 

It  was  only  later  that  we  learned  from  Richepin  the  true 

The  one  and  only  pantomime  that  Sarah  Bernhardt  ever 
played  in  was  Pierrot,  Assassin,  by  Richepin. 

This  was  a  complete  failure  and  only  brought  hisses  and  cat- 
calls wherever  it  was  produced,  but  Sarah  insisted  on  retaining 
it  on  her  repertoire  so  that  Richepin  could  have  the  authors' 
royalties.  These  were  considerable,  for  Sarah  cannily  would 
only  produce  the  pantomime  once  in  each  city,  and  her  name 
alone  was  sufficient  to  fill  the  theatre. 

She  took  the   thing  all  over   Europe.     When  we  were  in 

Scandinavia  she  would  tell  us  that  the  play  was  not  a  success 

because  :    "  These   Northerners   do   not  understand   the   art  of 

pantomime  ;  it  is  an  art  of  the  South  ;    you  will  see  how  they 

will  applaud  us  in  the  south  of  France  !  " 

But  when  we  played  in   Montpellier,  the  students  were  so 


290  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

indignant  that  they  demolished  the  interior  of  the  theatre, 
and  we  had  to  steal  out  of  the  city  in  closed  cabs  during  the  night 
in  order  to  escape  their  wrath  ! 

Since  that  day  Pierrot,  Assassin  has  not  been  played. 

All  this  time  she  had  kept  up  her  friendship  with  most  of  the 
people  who  had  surrounded  her  during  her  years  at  the  Comedie 
Fran9aise  in  the  seventies,  and  among  these  was  Gustave 
Dore,  the  immortal  illustrator  of  the  Bible  and  of  Dante's 
"  Inferno." 

Her  romance  with  Gustave  Dore  was  one  of  the  really  illumin- 
ating episodes  of  her  life. 

One  night  she  was  playing  Clorinde,  in  L'Aventuriere.  Dore, 
who  was  in  the  audience,  was  so  charmed  that  he  sent  her  the 
next  day  the  original  sketches  he  had  made  for  the  Gospel  of 
St.  John,  considered  among  his  finest  work.  In  reply,  she  wrote 
to  him  and  asked  him  to  come  to  her  dressing-room  after  the 

When  Dore  came,  he  had  scarcely  opened  the  door  before  she 
characteristically  threw  herself  into  his  arms  and  kissed  him  on 
both  cheeks.  Dore  was  so  astounded  that,  for  a  moment,  he 
could  not  speak.  This  was  the  first  occasion  on  which  he  had 
seen  Bernhardt  at  close  quarters,  and  in  fact  it  was  the  first  time 
he  had  ever  been  behind  the  scenes  of  a  theatre. 

When  Dore  did  not  move  nor  speak,  so  great  was  his  astonish- 
ment, Sarah  flew  into  a  temper. 

"  Ah,  you  regret,  you  are  sorry  you  sent  me  your  pictures  !  " 
she  stormed.     "  You  despise  me." 

Dore  threw  himself  at  her  feet,  and  kissed  her  satin 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  291 

"  Madame,"  he  said  simply,  "  I  do  not  permit  myself  to  love 
a  being  so  far  above  me  ;   I  adore  !  " 

This  was  not  the  beginning  of  their  romance,  however,  for 
Sarah  was  then  held  in  ties  of  intimacy  with  Georges  Clairin, 
Dore's  friend. 

But  Dore  joined  Sarah's  little  intimate  circle,  and  after  the 
death  of  Damala  he  ventured  to  reproach  her  for  abandoning  her 
painting  and  sculpture. 

"  It  is  because  I  have  no  teacher,"  she  said  sadly.  She  had 
quarrelled  with  Clairin,  who  had  gone  to  live  in  the  Midi. 

"  Let  me  accompany  you  !  "  suggested  Dore.  "  I  cannot 
teach  you,  but  we  will  teach  each  other." 

Less  than  a  week  later  it  was  common  gossip  in  Paris  that 
Gustave  Dore  and  Sarah  Bernhardt  experienced  a  tender  passion 
for  each  other.  It  is  questionable,  however,  whether  this  was 
not  a  passing  passion  with  Sarah' — although  a  very  genuine  one 
all  the  same. 

Dore  was  a  handsome  man  of  singularly  fine  physique.  He 
was  quiet,  studious,  and  in  his  own  field  as  famous  as  Sarah  in 

He  used  to  work  on  exquisite  miniatures  of  Sarah,  several  of 
which  are  now  to  be  found  in  private  collections. 

Sarah  and  he  spent  one  August  sketching  together  in  Brittany. 
They  both  wore  corduroy  trousers  and  carried  easels,  and  people 
who  did  not  know  them  took  them  for  an  old  painter  and  his 
apprentice,  never  dreaming  that  the  "  apprentice  "  was  the  most 
famous  actress  in  France. 

Sarah  told  me  of  an  amusing  incident  that  occurred  during 
this  painting  odyssey.     They  had  been  walking  all  day,  and  dusk 

292  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

found  them  near  a  farmhouse.  Entering,  they  asked  for  shelter 
for  the  night. 

After  dinner  Dore  was  shown  to  a  bedroom,  and  the  painter 
supposed  that  Sarah  had  been  given  another.  But  the  next 
morning,  on  looking  out  of  the  window,  he  was  amazed  to  see 
her  washing  herself  at  the  yard  pump,  her  clothes  full  of  stiaw 
and  filth.     She  was  in  a  merry  mood. 

"  They  took  me  for  your  boy  pupil,  and  gave  me  a  bed  with  the 
cow  in  the  bam  !  "  she  told  him. 

During  the  first  twenty-five  years  of  her  career,  Sarah  Bern- 
hardt earned  considerably  more  than  ;(^200,ooo.  Most  of  this 
was  made  after  she  left  the  Comddie  Fran9aise  to  become  her 
own  manager.  At  the  Porte  St.  Martin,  when  she  leased  it,  her 
profits  were  400,000  francs  annually. 

But  she  made  her  largest  sums  on  tour.  Altogether  she  brought 
back  from  the  United  States  alone  considerably  more  than  six 
million  dollars. 

But  she  was  one  of  the  most  extravagant  women  who  ever 
lived.  She  nearly  always  spent  more  than  her  income,  and,  when 
she  was  in  debt  and  besieged  by  creditors  (as  often  happened) 
she  would  organise  another  Grand  Tour  of  America,  or  Australia, 
or  Brazil,  or  Europe- — anywhere  that  promised  her  sufficit  nt  money. 

This  was  the  real  reason  for  her  repeated  tours,  which  made 
her  internationally  famous. 

She  was  still,  despite  the  fact  that  she  was  advancing  towards 
middle  age,  wonderfully  beautiful  and  full  of  high  spirits. 

In  fact,  these  high  spirits  sometimes  translated  themselves 
into  practical  jokes,  the  point  of  which  we  might  be  pardoned 
sometimes  for  not  seeing. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  293 

When  I  was  a  young  girl,  and  none  too  rich,  she  saw  me  with 
my  shoes  sodden  from  walking  in  the  rain, 

"  Let  me  put  them  to  dry,"  she  exclaimed,  removing  them 
gently.  Then,  in  a  burst  of  her  peculiar  humour,  she  threw  them 
in  the  fire  !  And  I  had  to  walk  home  in  my  stockinged  feet. 
She  promised  to  buy  me  another  pair  of  shoes,  but  I  am  bound  to 
say  that  she  never  did. 

When  Catulle  Mend^s  gave  Sarah  the  principal  part  in  Les 
Mhres  Ennemies,  he  was  the  friend  of  Augusta  Holmes,  the  cele- 
brated composer.  They  were  both  poor,  and  with  his  first 
profits  from  the  piece  Mendes  bought  his  friend  Zl  green 
cloth  gown,  with  long  sleeves  and  a  high  collar. 

When  Sarah  saw  the  gown  she  cried  :  "  What  !  A  fine  woman 
like  you,  to  hide  your  arms  and  shoulders  !     How  ridiculous  !  " 

And,  seizing  a  pair  of  scissors,  she  cut  off  both  sleeves  and 
sliced  off  the  collar,  while  poor  Augusta  stood  by,  terrified  to  death. 
The  gown  now  had  a  square  decollete,  it  wa.  true,  but  it  was 
completely  ruined. 

When  a  male  friend  came  to  see  her,  wearing  a  tall  hat,  it  was 
a  delight  to  Sarah  to  throw  it  on  the  ground  and  playfully  dance 
upon  it  ! 

She  was  a  trial  to  all  who  loved  her,  and  she  had  tremendous 
difficulty  in  keeping  domestics.  Despite  this,  she  finally  estab- 
lished a  household  which  remained  with  her  for  most  of  her  later 

Her  secretary  was  Piron,  formerly  of  the  Opera  Comique, 
who  could  play  on  almost  an}^  instrument.  Her  personal  maid 
was  Dominga,  a  Buenos  Ayres  dressmaker,  who  threw  up  her 
business  to  follow  Sarah.     Her  valet  was  Antonio,  a  Tunisian 

;94  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Jew  who  spoke  five  languages  and  who  was  discovered  by  Sarah 
in  far-away  Chili.  Her  butler  was  Claude,  and  her  dresser  was 

It  was  during  a  performance  of  Jeanne  d'Arc  at  the  Porte 
St.  Martin,  in  1890,  a  year  after  Damala's  death,  that  the 
accident,  which  eventually  cost  her  her  right  leg,  happened  to 

She  injured  the  right  knee  in  falling  while  on  the  stage,  and 
during  the  resultant  illness,  which  was  complicated  by  phlebitis, 
there  was  much  talk  of  amputation.  (This  did  not  come  until 
1915,  however,  and  for  the  time  being  Sarah's  limb  was  saved, 
thanks  to  the  genius  of  the  famous  Doctor  Lucas-Champion- 

An  American  impresario  then  in  Paris  (I  think  it  was  P.  T. 
Barnum)  went  to  Sarah  and  said  that  he  had  heard  her  leg  was 
to  be  cut  off. 

"  I  offer  you  10,000  dollars  for  your  limb  for  exhibition  pur- 
poses," was  his  astounding  proposition. 

Sarah's  reply  was  to  raise  her  skirts  and  to  display  wistfully 
the  member,  which  had  shrunk  a  good  deal  owing  to  the  injury. 

"  I  am  afraid  that  you  would  lose  on  your  bargain,"  she  said. 
"  Nobody  would  believe  that  that  was  the  leg  of  Sarah 
Bernhardt  !  " 

In  1887  she  made  another  Grand  Tour  of  Europe,  and  in  the 
following  year  left  for  a  tour  of  the  United  States  and  Canada, 
which  she  repeated  in  1889. 

At  the  conclusion  of  this  latter  tour  she  took  over  the  Porte 
St.  Martin,  where  she  distinguished  herself  chiefly  in  the  rules 

Jeaime  d'Arc  and  Cleopatra. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  295 

In  1893  she  acquired  the  management  of  the  Renaissance 
Theatre,  and  in  1894  launched  there  another  great  dramatist — 
Jules  Lemaitre,  whose  play,  Les  Rois,  she  starred  in  herself,  and 
in  which  she  obtained  a  great  triumph. 

Her  friendship  with  Jules  Lemaitre  was  one  of  the  most  abid- 
ing and  beautiful  things  in  her  life.  It  lasted  from  those  success- 
ful days  at  the  Renaissance  right  up  to  his  death,  which  occurred 
only  a  few  years  before  her  own. 

She  helped  and  encouraged  him  in  his  dramatic  work,  appeared 
herself  in  several  of  his  plays,  and,  in  his  declining  years,  invited 
him  for  long  months  to  Belle  Isle,  her  home  on  the  shores  of 

Jules  Lemaitre  was  the  one  man  with  whom  she  never  quar- 
relled. His  was  such  a  perfect  character,  so  sweet  a  spirit,  that  a 
dispute  with  him  would  have  been  impossible. 

And  now  Sarah  was  growing  old  herself,  even  though  her  spirit 
was  still  young.  When  she  produced  Les  Rois  she  was  just  fifty 
years  old. 

It  was  perhaps  because  her  friendship  with  Jules  Lemaitre 
was  a  spiritual  association,  rather  than  a  love  affair,  that  it  lasted 
so  long.  They  adored  each  other,  but  their  mutual  interest  lay 
in  their  work  together. 

Never  a  play  of  Lemaitre's  was  produced  or  a  criticism  of  his 
published  which  Sarah  did  not  see  first ;  and  never  a  literary  effort 
of  Sarah's  saw  print  without  first  having  been  subjected  to  the 
kindly  criticism  of  Jules  Lemaitre. 

It  was  a  beautiful  chapter  in  both  their  lives,  and  the  last 
sentimental  episode  for  each.     For,  after  she  became  fifty  years 

296  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

old,  Sarah  Bernhardt  became  more  and  more  a  worker,  an  apostle 
of  energy,  and  less  and  less  the  ardent  lover. 

Her  affair  with  Edmond  Rostand  was  the  last  great  affair  of 
passion  in  the  life  of  Sarah  Bernhardt. 

It  merits  a  chapter  to  itself. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  29^ 


The  first  time  Sarah  Bernhardt 's  name  was  publicly  linked  with 
that  of  Edmond  Rostand  was  prior  to  the  production  of  L'Aiglon. 

Sarah  still  pursued  her  studies  as  a  sculptress,  though  not  so 
assiduously  as  before.  Sometimes  a  whole  year  would  go  by 
without  her  putting  chisel  to  stone,  and  then  she  would  have  a 
burst  of  trenchant  energy  and  work  furiously  on  a  bust  for  days 
and  nights  together. 

She  was  possessed  of  great  determination,  a  trait  which  is 
generally  allied  to  obstinacy,  and  she  was  remarkable  among  her 
friends  for  always  finishing  anything  she  started.  She  might, 
in  the  fits  of  temper  which  now  were  becoming  rarer,  break  her 
sculptures  or  rip  up  her  paintings  after  she  had  finished  them,  but 
she  invariably  completed  them  first. 

She  liked  to  have  famous  men  to  pose  for  her.  She  seized  on 
Victorien  Sardou,  a  man  of  great  irritability — as  demonstrated 
by  his  letters  reproduced  in  a  previous  chapter — and  compelled 
the  great  dramatist  to  sit  for  her  twenty-one  times,  during  which 
she  completed  her  famous  bust  of  him  in  black  marble.  This  is 
considered  by  many  to  have  been  her  finest  work. 

Occasionally,  when  people  refused  to  sit  for  her  or  pleaded 
various  excuses,  she  would  trick  them  into  submission.  This 
was  the  way  she  managed  to  get  Edmond  Rostand  and  Maurice 
Maeterlinck  to  pose  together. 

298  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Rostand  and  Maeterlinck  were  friends,  and  one  night  they 
accepted  an  invitation  to  dine  at  the  home  of  the  Countess  de 

B ,  the  occasion  being  in  honour  of  the  President  of  the 


Having  some  time  to  spare  beforehand,  the  two  men,  who  were 
then  not  nearly  so  celebrated  as  Edmond  Rostand  was  when  he 
died,  or  as  Maeterlinck  is  now,  called  upon  Sarah  Bernhardt.  It 
was  three  o'clock  in  the  afternoon,  and  the  Countess's  dinner  was 
fixed  for  nine  o'clock  at  night. 

Nine  o'clock  came  and  passed,  and  then  nine-thirty,  and  finally 
10  p.m.  The  Countess  gave  orders  for  the  dinner  to  be  served, 
at  the  same  time  sending  messengers  to  the  homes  of  the  absentees, 
to  inquire  if  there  had  been  any  accident. 

To  her  astonishment  the  messengers  came  back  with  the  news 
that  nothing  had  been  seen  or  heard  of  the  two  poets  since  they 
had  departed,  shortly  after  lunch,  to  take  tea  with  Madame  Sarah 

Containing  her  anger,  the  Countess  returned  to  her  guests  and 
explained  that  Rostand  and  Maeterlinck  had  been  unavoidably 
detained.  Then  she  privately  sent  two  young  guests  to  Sarah's 
house,  with  strict  instructions  not  to  return  without  finding 
out  whether  the  distinguished  and  errant  couple  were  still  there. 

They  had  no  sooner  reached  the  portals  of  Sarah's  home  than 
the  grille  opened  and  out  came  Rostand  and  Maeterlinck,  in  a 
great  hurry. 

"  The  Countess  and  the  President  of  the  Republic  have  been 
waiting  for  you  for  three  hours  !  "  cried  one  of  the  messengers. 

It  came  out  that,  during  their  visit,  Sarah  had  been  seized 
with  one  of  her  modelling  fits  and  had  persuaded  them  to  sit  to 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  299 

her.  When  it  was  time  for  them  to  go,  she  had  enticed  them  into 
a  room  she  called  her  studio,  which  had  glass  doors,  and  turned 
the  key  on  them  there. 

When  they  turned  round  they  perceived  Sarah  sitting  on  the 
other  side  of  the  transparent  doors,  calmly  continuing  her 

They  rapped  on  the  door,  made  faces  at  her,  shouted,  all  to  no 
purpose.  Sarah  went  on  working  with  her  clay,  rounding  the 
figures  into  shape. 

"  But  the  President  is  waiting  for  us  !  "  cried  Rostand  finally 
through  the  key-hole. 

Sarah's  "  voice  of  gold  "  came  sonorously  through  the  door  : 

"  It  is  a  far  greater  honour,  messieurs,  to  be  a  prisoner  in  Sarah 
Bernhardt 's  hands,  than  to  be  a  performing  lion  for  the  President 
of  France  !  " 

Rostand's  courtship  of  Sarah  Bernhardt  remained  one  of 
the  great  episodes  of  his  career.  Though  Sarah  refused  him 
repeatedly,  and  he  afterwards  married  the  famous  Rosamonde, 
his  friendship  with  the  actress  continued,  and  she  was  at  once  his 
inspiration  and  his  mentor,  as  well  as  the  co-author  of  his  fame. 

Sarah  was  the  first  woman  invited  to  see  little  Maurice  Ros- 
tand on  the  day  that  he  was  born. 

And  when  Sarah  herself  lay  dying,  Rosamonde  and  this  same 
boy  Maurice  were  among  the  last  to  be  admitted  to  her  bed- 

Rostand  used  to  write  Sarah  frantic  letters,  pleading  his  love 
for  her.  He  sang  her  praises  ever5rw^here  he  went,  even  in  the 
cafes  on  the  boulevards  where  he  and  his  fellow  litterateurs  were 
wont  to  gather. 

300  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

"  She  is  the  Queen  of  Attitude,  the  Princess  of  Gesture,  the 
Lady  of  Energy,"  he  exclaimed  once,  in  a  poem  dedicated  to 

In  1896,  after  UAiglon  was  produced,  he  wrote : 

"  The  existence  of  Sarah  Bernhardt  remains  the  supreme 
marvel  of  the  nineteenth  century." 

As  was  the  case  in  all  her  love  affairs,  except  that  with  Jules 
Lemaitre,  her  high-strung  temperament  clashed  frequently  with 
that  of  Rostand,  who  was  a  wild  and  erratic  youth. 

He  was  in  the  habit  of  meeting  Sarah  and  supping  with  her 
after  the  theatre.  Sometimes  they  would  go  for  long  drives 
together,  Sarah  sitting  and  listening  attentively,  while  Edmond 
declaimed  his  latest  poems. 

It  was  thus  she  heard  for  the  first  time  the  verse  of  L'Aiglon, 
which  he  and  she  created.  She  would  criticise  the  dramatic 
construction  of  a  play,  and  was  no  mean  authority  on  verse. 
Rostand  admitted  afterwards  that  he  owed  everything  to  her 
shrewd  coaching  during  those  midnight  drives  through  the  Champs 
Elysees  and  the  Bois  de  Boulogne. 

Once  he  arrived  at  the  stage  door  of  the  new  Sarah  Bernhardt 
Theatre- — the  old  Opera  Comique,  which  Sarah  had  leased  from 
the  City  of  Paris- — five  minutes  late.  They  had  had  something 
particularly  important  to  talk  over  in  regard  to  a  forthcoming 
production,  and  Sarah  could  not  brook  delay. 

She  left  him  a  short,  imperious  note  stating  that  she  would  not 
produce  his  play,  since  he  took  so  little  interest  in  it,  and,  moreover, 
she  did  not  wish  to  see  him  again  ! 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  301 

The  next  morning,  when  Sarah  left  her  house  to  take  her 
accustomed  ride  in  the  Bois,  she  discovered  a  haggard  figure 
sitting  on  the  doorstep. 

It  was  Rostand.  He  had  stayed  on  the  doorstep  all  night, 
hoping  by  thus  humbling  himself  to  be  forgiven. 

Sarah  was  struck  by  his  devotion,  but  more  by  the  fact  that 
he  was  shivering  with  fever.  She  took  him  into  the  house,  and 
had  him  put  to  bed  in  her  private  apartment,  and  for  three  days 
she  ministered  to  him  while  he  recovered  from  a  severe  cold. 

She  would  not  allow  a  domestic  to  approach  the  bedroom, 
even  carrying  Rostand  his  food  and  hot-water  bottles  with  her 
own  hands.  During  these  three  days  she  did  not  go  near  the 
theatre — and  nobody  in  Paris  knew  where  Rostand  was  ! 

It  was  during  this  sickness  in  Sarah's  house  that  Rostand 
conceived  (as  he  admitted  afterwards)  the  first  idea  for  L'Aiglon, 
which  he  composed  for  and  dedicated  to  Sarah.  L'Aiglon,  as 
everyone  knows,  is  the  story  of  the  King  of  Rome,  Napoleon's 
son,  who  dies  in  exile. 

It  had  a  moderate  success  when  Sarah  first  produced  it  in  her 
own  theatre  at  Paris,  but  was  an  absolute  triumph  in  London  and 
New  York.  In  the  play  Sarah  takes  the  part  of  the  young  King 
of  Rome. 

To  me  she  once  said  :  "  L'Aiglon  is  my  favourite  part.  I 
think  I  like  it  better  than  Tosca.  At  any  rate,  a  poet  wrote  it 
with  me  in  mind." 

"  So  did  Fran9ois  Coppee  write  Le  Passant,  with  you  in 
mind  !  "  I  reminded  her. 

Sarah  was  wistful.  ' '  Yes,  that  is  true, ' '  she  answered.  "  Poor 
Fran9ois.     He  is  a  genius  .  .  .  but— he  is  not  Edmond  Rostand  !  " 

302  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

L'Aiglon  was  not  the  first  play  of  Rostand's  that  Sarah 

In  1896  the  door-keeper  of  the  Renaissance  came  to  her  with 
a  worried  look. 

"  There  is  a  wild  man  outside  who  wants  to  see  you,  madame," 
he  said. 

"  Who  is  he  ?  "  asked  Sarah. 

"  He  said  Jean  Richepin  had  sent  him' — but  I  doubt  it 
myself ;    he  looks  like  a  savage." 

"  Send  your  wild  man  to  me,"  commanded  Sarah,  laughingly, 
and  turning  to  me  explained  :  "  It  is  this  boy  Rostand,  whom 
Jean  spoke  of.  It  appears  that  he  is  a  poet,  and  quite  a  good 

I  made  as  if  to  go,  but  Sarah  stayed  me.  "  Wait,  we  will  see 
what  he  looks  like  !  "  she  said. 

It  was  thus  that  I  was  present  at  the  first  meeting  between 
Sarah  Bernhardt  and  Edmond  Rostand. 

Sarah  had  her  own  fashion  of  greeting  visitors.  Her  leg 
pained  her  if  she  used  it  too  much — the  phlebitis  persisted — so 
she  would  remain  seated.  When  anyone  was  announced' — 
especially  a  stranger^ — she  would  hold  out  her  hand  with  a  word  of 
greeting,  bid  him  sit  down,  and  then  cup  her  chin  on  her  hands 
and  look  at  him  steadily,  without  a  trace  of  expression. 

Few  men  there  were' — or  women  either,  for  that  matter — 
who  could  withstand  the  hypnotic  appeal  of  those  glorious  blue 
eyes,  which  at  fifty  retained  all  the  sparkle  and  fire  of  youth, 
together  with  the  mysterious  inscrutability  of  approaching  age  ! 

Sarah  received  Edmond  in  her  customary  manner,  with 
myself  an  interested  and,  secretly,  much  amused  spectator. 

Mme.  Bernhardt's  Sitting-room  at  her  Last  Home, 
56,  Boulevard  Pereire,  Paris. 

Photo,  Henri  Manuel.]  P.  302. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  303 

Rostand  sat  down,  placed  his  hat  and  gloves  on  the  floor 
beside  him,  and  then  turned  to  await  Sarah's  instructions  to 

I  saw  then  why  the  door-keeper  had  called  him  a  "  wild  man." 
His  hair  was  at  least  five  inches  long  and  was  in  the  most  in- 
describable tangle,  as  though  it  had  not  been  brushed  for  months. 
It  was  matted  over  his  forehead,  on  which  beads  of  perspiration 
were  standing. 

Rostand  turned  and  looked  at  Sarah.  Sarah,  chin  on  hands, 
was  steadily  staring  at  him.  It  was  an  awkward  moment  for  a 
young,  aspiring  poet ! 

Tremendously  nervous,  Rostand  moistened  his  Hps  and  twice 
tried  to  speak. 

(t    T  1» 

Sarah  stared  as  before 

Sarah's  expression  did  not  change. 

Finally  Rostand  could  stand  it  no  longer.  Seizing  his  hat 
and  gloves  he  rose  precipitately  and  dashed  from  the  room  with- 
out having  spoken  a  word  regarding  his  mission. 

Sarah  screamed  with  laughter. 

"  Eh  Men !  "  she  exclaimed.  "  So  much  for  our  young 
poet  !  " 

But  when  she  went  out  of  the  theatre  she  was  met  by  her 
coachman,  who  was  in  great  agitation. 

"  If  it  please,  madame,"  he  said,  "  there  is  a  man  sitting  in 
your  carriage,  and  he  won't  get  out !  " 

A  man  sitting  in  her  carriage  !  It  was  like  a  pagan  mount- 
ing the  steps  of  an  altar  ! 

304  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Sarah  hastened  outside.  Sure  enough,  there  was  her  carriage, 
and  there  was  a  man  in  it.  One  look  at  his  mass  of  hair  and  Sarah 
realised  who  he  was. 

It  was  Rostand  ! 

"  Throw  him  out  !  "  commanded  Sarah,  while  we  stood  by 
aghast  at  this  sacrilege  committed  by  an  unknown  poet. 

Then  Rostand  to  my  amazement  found  his  voice.  He  stood 
up  in  the  carriage  and  bowed  to  Sarah. 

"  I  don't  wish  to  have  to  knock  your  coachman  down  a 
second  time,"  he  said,  "  so,  madame,  it  will  save  time  if  I  explain 
that  I  am  going  to  ride  home  with  you  !  " 

"  You  are  going  to  ride  home  with  me ! "  said  Sarah.  For 
once  even  her  ready  wit  had  forsaken  her. 

"  I  came  here  to  read  you  a  poem,  and  I  am  going  to  read  it !  " 
continued  Rostand  firmly. 

Sarah  burst  out  laughing . 

"So  be  it  !  "  she  cried  cheerfully.  "  Jean  told  me  that  I 
should  hear  your  poem,  and  if  you  cannot  read  it  to  me  anywhere 
except  in  my  carriage,  why  you  may  do  it  there  !  " 

And  she  got  into  the  carriage  with  him,  and  it  drove  off — 
much  to  our  amusement,  of  course. 

But  we  were  not  astonished.  Nothing  that  Sarah  Bernhardt 
did  had  the  power  to  astonish  us  any  more. 

The  poem  which  Rostand  read  to  Sarah  as  they  drove  about 
in  her  carriage — it  was  the  first  of  a  score  of  similar  rides,  for 
which  it  established  the  precedent — was  part  of  his  play,  La 
Princesse  Lointaine,  one  of  the  sweetest  poetical  dramas  ever 

Sarah  produced  it  six  months  later  and  it  was  a  great  success. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  305 

In  fact,  it  made  Rostand  as  a  playwright,  and  paved  the  way 
for  his  triumph  in  L'Aiglon. 

He  was  enormously  grateful  to  Sarah  and  his  gratitude  was 
the  foundation  of  his  love  for  her. 

Sarah's  association  with  the  Rostands  did  not  cease  with  the 
death  of  the  great  Edmond.  When  he  died  he  directed  that  if 
ever  his  famous  property,  Arnaga,  near  Biarritz,  was  sold,  Sarah 
Bernhardt  should  be  given  the  first  opportunity  to  acquire  it. 
But  when  it  finally  went  under  the  hammer  it  was  bought  by 
a  South  American,  and  this  happened  a  few  weeks  after  Sarah 

When  it  was  first  put  up  for  auction  there  were  no  bidders, 
since  the  reserve  price  had  been  set  at  two  million  francs. 

"  I  am  too  poor  even  to  purchase  a  lot  in  a  cemetery,"  Sarah 
said  at  the  time,  and,  in  fact,  she  was  at  that  moment  having 
difficulties  over  payments  for  work  on  the  tomb  built  for  herself 
at  Belle  Isle — a  tomb  in  which  she  will  perhaps  never  lie  because, 
five  days  before  her  death,  the  property  was  sold.  There  is  talk 
now  that  the  purchasers,  who  are  transforming  the  property  into  a 
Bernhardt  Museum,  will  petition  that  her  body  may  be  brought 
to  its  ordained  resting-place. 

Sarah  early  recognised  the  budding  genius  in  the  boy  Maurice 
Rostand,  son  of  Edmond.  She  encouraged  him  in  every  way, 
and  she  returned  to  the  stage  after  the  Great  War  in  order  per- 
sonally to  appear  in  his  La  Gloire,  which  is  conceded  by  critics  to 
be  a  masterpiece. 

Maurice  Rostand  is  a  peculiar  individual  to  look  at,  and  there 

are  many  stories  about  him  ;   but  there  is  no  doubt  about  it — 

he  is  Edmond  Rostand's  son  and  a  worthy  successor  of  his  great 


3o6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

father.  Maurice  Rostand  is  a  genius.  And  Sarah  Bernhardt 
was  the  first  to  recognise  genius  in  him,  as  she  had  been  the  first 
to  recognise  it  in  his  father. 

Let  me  read  to  you  what  Maurice  Rostand  wrote  the  day  that 
Sarah  Bernhardt  died : 

"  Since  yesterday,  Poesy  and  her  Poets  are  in  mourning.  The 
muse  of  Shakespeare  and  of  Musset  carries  crepe  upon  his  shoulder 
of  gold  !  Phedre  has  died  a  second  time  !  And  a  poet  feels  in 
the  shadows  about  him  a  thousand  wounded  heroines  who  cry  ; 
and  their  immortal  verses,  like  useless  bees,  search  in  vain  for  lips 
whereon  to  rest ! 

"  Permit  me,  however,  to  render  homage  to  Her  who  has  taken 
with  her  to  a  radiant  tomb  all  the  lyricism  of  an  epoch  !  Permit 
me  to  render  homage  to  the  living  poesy  of  Sarah  Bernhardt ! 

"  Yes,  she  herself  was  the  theatre  poetique  !  The  heroes  of 
poets,  on  the  dangerous  road  of  the  centuries  are  in  danger  of 
succumbing,  and  more  than  one  disincarnated  heroine  would  not 
reach  the  far  country  without  the  helping  hand  of  genius  such  as 

"  To  affirm  their  existence,  it  is  necessary  from  time  to  time 
that  a  heart  of  fire  and  passion  cause  their  passions  and  their 
pains  to  live  again.  Lorenzaccio,  the  young  debauche,  for 
having  one  night  taken  this  voice  of  crystal,  is  launched  to  more 
than  eternity !  The  sister  of  Ariane  and  her  great  sob  of 
hete  divine  fills  the  world  more  profoundly. 

"  The  Poets  are  not  so  niggardly  that  they  do  not  recognise  to 
what  horizons  a  voice  like  that  can  hurl  their  songs.  You  knew  it, 
Musset?   You  knew  it,  my  father !  .  .  .  Thou  knowestit,my  heart. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  307 

"  I  write  on  the  first  midnight  of  her  death,  her  first  glacial 
night,  when  shaken  by  Her  I  have  contracted  from  her  passage 
an  insulation  which  is  the  proof  itself  of  her  astra.  This  insulation 
the  whole  of  an  epoch  has  received,  and  the  trace  of  her 
passage  has  glorified  the  poets,  even  when  she  was  not  saying  their 
verse.  The  beauty  and  the  genius  of  Sarah  Bernhardt  made 
the  shadow  of  Herself  penetrate  into  all  the  arts  she  epitomised. 
Who  knows  in  what  measure  the  genius  of  Gabriele  d'Annunzio 
has  not  warmed  itself  at  that  Great  Flame  ?  I  have  recognised 
in  more  than  one  of  these  sisters  of  voluptuousness  and  of  fever 
She  who  was  Divinity  in  La  Ville  Morte !  One  finds  her  every- 
where. Here  in  a  poem  by  Swinburne  ;  there  in  prose  by  Wilde, 
in  an  arabesque  by  Beardsley,  in  a  motif  by  Claude  Debussy,  in  a 
song  of  Maeterlinck.  .  .  . 

"  Burn,  immortal  tapers,  before  her  great  Memory !  " 

Who  shall  say  that  this  was  not  the  voice  of  Edmond  Rostand, 
living  again  through  the  charmed  pen  of  his  son  ? 

3o8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 


Sarah  signed  the  lease  with  the  civic  authorities  of  Paris  to  run 
the  Theatre  de  I'Opera  Comique,  on  the  Place  du  Chatelet,  in 
November,  1898.  She  immediately  changed  the  name  to  Theatre 
Sarah  Bernhardt,  and  on  January  18,  1899,  she  opened  it  with 
Adrienne  Lecouvreur. 

This  was  a  curtain-raiser,  so  to  speak,  and  it  soon  gave  place 
to  L'Aiglon,  which  has  been  consistently  included  in  that  theatre's 
repertoire  ever  since. 

By  a  singular  irony  of  coincidence  L'Aiglon  was  being  played 
at  the  Theatre  Sarah  Bernhardt  on  that  sad  night,  the  twenty- 
sixth  of  March,  1923,  when  the  world  of  art  and  drama  was 
thrown  into  mourning  by  her  death. 

It  was  at  the  Theatre  de  I'Opera  Comique,  it  will  be  remem- 
bered, where  Sarah  saw  her  first  play  as  a  little  girl.  And  it  was 
there  that  she  played  her  last. 

Although  it  was  to  be  nearly  a  quarter  of  a  century  before  the 
final  curtain  fell,  Sarah  found  her  energy,  though  not  her  fortitude, 
diminishing.  Further  and  further  her  sentimental  life  was  being 
pushed  into  the  background,  as  the  cares  of  business  and  of 
management  weighed  on  her. 

She  moved  to  a  little  red-brown  house  on  the  Boulevard 
Pereire,  and  there  at  last,  after  all  her  wanderings  amongst  the 
different  quarters  of  Paris,  she  found  a  permanent  home.     Into 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  309 

it  she  brought  the  accumulated  treasures  of  a  lifetime  spent  in 
travel,  including  gifts  that  had  come  to  her  from  every  corner  of 
the  globe. 

She  installed  herself  in  this  house  alone  with  a  secretary, 
for  her  son  was  married  now  and  living  in  a  street  near-by,  in  a 
home  of  his  own. 

Here  also  she  brought  the  waiter  Claude,  who  loved  to  call 
himself  "  I'ecuyer  de  Sarah  Bernhardt,"  or  "  Sarah  Bernhardt 's 
butler,"  and  Felicie,  her  maid. 

Sarah  was  very  particular  over  her  table.  She  insisted  on 
the  best.  Although  she  herself  ate  frugally,  her  guests  were 
always  given  the  choicest  that  could  be  procured. 

Sarah  was  a  vegetarian— she  remained  so,  in  fact,  all  her  life 
although  on  one  or  two  occasions  perhaps  she  may  have  pecked 
at  a  bird,  a  slice  of  venison,  or  a  similar  dainty. 

In  the  morning,  at  eight  o'clock,  she  would  partake  of  an 
orange,  a  light  roll,  and  drink  a  cup  of  weak  tea.  The  orange- 
for-breakfast  habit  she  acquired  in  America,  where  fruit 
customarily  precedes  the  first  meal  of  the  day. 

Then  she  would  work  until  noon,  when  she  would  be  served 
with  her  only  real  meal— an  omelette,  perhaps,  and  a  piece  of  fish, 
and  more  fruit.  Until  she  was  thirty-four  she  never  tasted  cheese 
—it  offended,  she  said,  her  esthetic  sense  '.—but  when  she  grew 
old,  a  light  gruyere  or  a  Pont-1'Eveque  was  a  favourite  dish  of  hers. 

At  five  in  the  afternoon  she  had  an  invariable  glass  of  cham- 
pagne, and  at  seven  an  ceuf  souffle  or  something  similarly  light. 
For  years  her  diet  was  prescribed  by  doctors,  and  never  a  week 
went  by  after  1890  that  Sarah  Bernhardt  was  not  examined  by  a 

310  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Despite  the  accident  to  her  leg  and  the  subsequent  phlebitis, 
which  grew  more  serious  with  every  recurrent  attack,  Sarah  con- 
tinued to  act  in  the  plays  she  produced  at  the  Theatre  Sarah 
Bernhardt.  One  after  another  she  produced  L'Aiglon,  Hamlet, 
La  Sorciere,  Le  Proces  de  Jeanne  d'Arc,  La  Belle  au  Bois  Dormant, 
La  Beffa,  La  Courtisane  de  Corinthe,  Lucrece  Borgia,  Les  Bouffons, 
and  Jeanne  Doree. 

Thrice,  after  she  opened  her  theatre,  she  undertook  long, 
fatiguing  tours  of  America  and  Europe,  and  once  she  went  to 
Australia,  South  Africa  and  New  Zealand.  "  Bernhardt 's  Circus  " 
was  what  her  travelling  company  was  facetiously  nicknamed 
by  the  Paris  press — the  fun  and  criticism  of  which,  however,  had 
grown  considerate  and  kindly. 

"  Sarah  Bernhardt  is  a  national  institution  ;  to  criticise  her 
is  like  criticising  the  Tomb  of  Napoleon,"  said  Le  Journal  des 
De'bats  one  evening. 

The  Prince  of  Wales,  who  was  shortly  to  become  King  Edward 
VII.,  was  a  warm  friend  of  Sarah  Bernhardt,  and  on  one  well- 
remembered  occasion  paid  an  informal  visit,  together  with  the 
Princess  of  Wales,  to  her  home  in  Paris. 

"  What  did  you  talk  about  ?  "  I  asked,  the  next  day. 

"  Dogs  and  dresses,"  said  Sarah  promptly. 

"  The  Prince,"  she  continued,  "  is  tremendously  interested 
in  dogs,  and  there  we  have  a  common  ground." 

Once  the  Prince  called  on  Sarah  in  her  dressing-room — this 
was  when  she  was  at  the  Renaissance. 

Word  was  sent  in  advance,  of  course,  that  he  was  coming — and 
she  was  requested  to  be  ready  to  receive  him  at  ten  o'clock.  At 
that  hour  she  was  customarily  on  the  stage,  and  her  entourage 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her        311 

was  excited  at  the  possibility  of  her  not  being  there  to  receive  the 
Royal  visitor. 

The  stage-manager  suggested  advancing  the  time  of  the  whole 
piece,  so  that  the  third  act  would  be  finished  by  ten,  but  this  did 
not  suit  Sarah,  who  knew  that  such  an  arrangement  would  make 
many  people  who  had  purchased  seats  miss  a  part  of  the  first  act. 

She  settled  it  in  her  own  characteristic  fashion. 

"  Let  him  wait,"  she  said.  "  After  all,  he  isn't  King 
yet !  " 

At  ten  o'clock — punctuality  is  the  politeness  of  kings — the 
Prince  arrived.  When  Sarah  returned,  she  found  him  in  the 
wings,  watching  the  life  behind  the  scenes  with  intense  interest. 
It  being  draughty  there,  he  had  not  removed  his  hat. 

He  advanced  his  hand,  but  Sarah  kept  hers  at  her  side.  She 
was  in  one  of  her  haughty  moods  that  evening. 

"  A  King  may  wear  his  crown,  but  a  Prince  must  remove  his 
hat  in  the  presence  of  a  lady,"  she  said  loftily. 

The  Prince  snatched  his  silk  hat  from  his  head,  blushed  deeply, 
and  murmured  a  confused  apology.  It  was  probably  the  one 
occasion  in  his  life  when  a  woman  treated  him  with  such  scant 
consideration  for  his  Royal  dignity  ! 

After  the  famous  dinner  "  en  famille  "  given  to  the  Prince  and 
Princess  of  Wales  by  Sarah^ — it  was  supposed  to  be  strictly  secret, 
but  Sarah  saw  that  it  leaked  into  the  papers  ! — she  received  a 
note  from  one  of  the  ladies-in-waiting  to  the  Princess,  who,  with 
her  Royal  husband,  was  living  at  the  Hotel  Bristol  in  the  Place 

"  Her  Royal  Highness  was  much  interested  in  the  gown  which 
Madame  Bernhardt  was  describing  to  her  last  night,  and  wonders 

312  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

whether  Madame  Bernhardt  could  spare  her  a  few  minutes  this 
morning  to  consult  with  her  regarding  it." 

Truly  a  strange  message  to  be  sent  by  a  Princess  to  an  actress  ! 

Sarah  visited  the  hotel  and  had  another  long  chat  with  the 
Princess,  whose  beauty  and  grace  were  the  talk  of  Paris.  They 
talked  of  a  good  deal  besides  dresses.  The  Princess  loved  to 
speak  of  her  beloved  Denmark,  which  Sarah  knew  well,  and  they 
recalled  the  first  occasion  on  which  Sarah  went  there,  just  after 
she  left  the  Comedie  Fran9aise,  when  the  Princess  was  also  visiting 
her  native  country. 

Sarah  gave  the  Prince  a  Swiss  shepherd-dog,  and  he,  after 
becoming  King  Edward  VII.,  sent  her  an  Airedale  puppy.  This 
puppy  came  to  an  unfortunate  end  shortly  afterwards.  It  died 
in  agony  as  the  result  of  being  bitten  by  Sarah's  pet  panther?^ 

After  he  came  to  the  throne.  King  Edward  VII.  and  Queen 
Alexandra  invariably  "  commanded  "  a  performance  whenever 
Sarah  was  in  London.  It  might  be  at  Windsor,  or  at  Sandring- 
ham,  or  in  London,  but  afterwards  the  kindly  King  and  the  lovely 
Queen  of  England  would  carry  Sarah  off  for  a  confidential  chat  in 
the  homelike  atmosphere  of  their  private  apartments. 

Sarah  had  hundreds  of  reminiscences  to  relate  regarding  her 
two  Royal  friends.     How  she  loved  Queen  Alexandra  ! 

In  1904  Sarah  had  another  and  severe  attack  of  phlebitis 
while  on  tour  in  America,  and  lay  ill  for  a  long  time  in  San  Fran- 
cisco. It  was  thought  then  that  she  would  eventually  lose  her 
limb  The  poison  was  gradually  creeping  upwards,  and  she  could 
not  put  her  foot  to  the  ground  without  intense  pain.  She 
remained  a  fortnight  in  bed,  with  her  leg  held  up  by  a  pulley. 

Sarah's    fortitude    throughout  her   long  trial   was   amazing. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  313 

As  soon  as  her  foot  became  sufficiently  well  to  stand  upon,  she 
insisted  on  returning  to  the  theatre. 

Finally,  when  she  was  playing  in  Bordeaux  in  the  early  spring 
of  1915  she  had  another  and  more  critical  attack,  and  was  taken 
to  Dr.  Moure's  private  clinic. 

Dr.  Pozzi,  the  famous  surgeon,  was  sent  for  from  Paris,  but 
after  examination  he  shook  his  head. 

"  Amputation  cannot  save  her,"  he  said,  and  he  refused  to 
undertake  the  operation. 

Another  doctor  was  sent  for.  Dr.  Denucce,  also  a  great  surgeon. 
Dr.  Denucce  put  the  situation  squarely  before  the  actress. 

"  There  is  one  hope  for  you — amputation — but  it  is  a  chance  in 
a  thousand,  for  the  infection  has  reached  the  spine,"  he  told  her. 

Sarah  heard  her  sentence  calmly. 

"Cut  it  off !  "  she  said. 

When  they  laid  her  on  the  operating  table,  they  tried  to  cheer 
her  with  words  of  encouragement,  but  Sarah's  brave  smile  shone 

"  I  have  already  faced  death  seven  times,"  she  said.  "  If 
this  is  when  my  light  is  to  go  out,  I  shall  not  be  afraid  !  " 

She  was  in  a  terrible  condition,  not  only  physically  but 
financially.  The  operation  was  a  success,  but  she  had  not  a  cent 
with  which  to  pay  the  clinic  or  the  doctors.  The  Rothschilds 
and  their  friends  finally  came  to  the  rescue. 

"  All  my  life,  it  seems,  I  have  been  making  money  for  others 
to  spend  !  "  she  said,  but  with  no  complaint  in  her  voice. 

She  faced  her  future  then,  penniless  after  the  millions  she 
had  earned,  and  with  one  leg,  as  courageously  as  she  had  returned 
to  face  a  jeering  Paris  after  her  first  visit  to  London. 

314  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

By  the  irony  of  fate  her  sick-room  at  Bordeaux  was  filled  with 
flowers  worth  literally  thousands  of  pounds,  that  had  been  sent 
from  all  quarters  of  France  by  her  worshippers. 

"  If  I  only  had  the  money  these  flowers  cost !  "  she  remarked 

The  war  was  on,  and  the  ambulance  in  which  she  was  being 
taken  to  the  station  on  her  way  back  to  Paris  overtook  regiment 
after  regiment  of  soldiers  on  their  way  to  the  Front. 

"  La  glorieuse  blessee,"  the  papers  called  her,  and  the  soldiers 
thronged  about  the  ambulance  and  her  car  on  the  train,  taking  the 
flowers  that  decorated  their  bayonets  and  throwing  them  at  the 
indomitable  genius  who  sat  inside  it  with  tears  in  her  eyes. 

Within  six  months  Sarah  herself  was  at  the  Front,  playing  from 
an  armchair  for  the  poilus  who  were  battling  to  check  the  invader. 

She  was  then  seventy-one  years  old. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  315 


When  she  was  asked  by  a  journalist  in  1898  to  describe  her 
"  ideal  "  Sarah  Bernhardt  replied  : 

"  My  ideal  ?  But  I  am  still  pursuing  it  !  I  shall  pursue  it 
until  my  last  hour,  and  I  feel  that  in  the  supreme  moment  I 
shall  know  the  certainty  of  attaining  it  beyond  the  tomb." 

In  these  few  words  lie  the  expression  of  Sarah  Bernhardt 's 
whole  life. 

Indefinable  as  perhaps  her  ideal  was,  it  was  the  star  that  guided 
her  throughout  her  long  career.  It  was  that  grasping  after  the 
unattainable,  that  desire  to  take  the  one  more  step  ahead,  that 
cuUe  du  parfait,  as  Rostand  expressed  it,  that  inspired  her  battles 
and  illuminated  her  art. 

Shortly  after  she  moved  to  the  Boulevard  Pereire,  she  pur- 
chased the  Fort  des  Poulains,  on  Belle  Isle-sur-Mer,  on  the  coast 
of  Brittany,  and  here  she  spent  the  summers  of  her  convalescence, 
surrounded  by  faithful  friends  and  members  of  her  family. 

She  built  a  magnificent  house  at  Belle  Isle,  and  another 
building  on  the  farm  adjoining  it.  This  she  called  "  Sarah's 
Fort,"  and  it  was  consecrated  to  the  great  tragedienne.  Here 
she  would  spend  hours  in  the  company  of  her  son,  or  with  Jules 

3i6  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

Lemaitre,  or  some  other  trusted  friend,  and  here  she  was  safe 
from  the  cares  and  worries  of  her  business  in  PariS' — for  she 
still  retained  the  active  management  of  the  Theatre  Sarah 

"  It  is,"  said  the  Illustration  recently,  "  with  a  real  sentiment 
of  satisfaction  that  we  learn  that  the  Fort  des  Poulains,  the  property 
of  Madame  Sarah  Bernhardt  at  Belle  Isle,  is  to  become  a  museum 
consecrated  to  the  great  tragedienne  and  is  not  to  become  a  tourist 
hotel  and  dancing-place,  as  had  been  reported.  By  a  sentiment  of 
respect  and  piety,  the  group  which  has  purchased  the  property 
has  so  decided.  They  will  try  to  bring  to  the  property  a  collec- 
tion of  souvenirs  of  the  great  artiste,  and  tourists  will  thus  be 
able  to  visit  the  surroundings  which  were  so  dear  to  Sarah  Bern- 
hardt's  heart.  .  .  .  What  souvenirs  are  attached  to  Belle  Isle, 
where  La  Princesse  Lointaine  will  sleep  one  day  perhaps  her  last 
repose  !  " 

Once  when  in  Florida,  Sarah  expressed  the  desire  to  hunt  an 
alligator.  There  was  no  alligator  in  that  region,  and  the  local 
admirers  of  the  artiste  were  in  despair  until  it  was  remembered 
that  the  druggist  of  the  town  possessed  a  baby  alligator,  which  at 
the  moment  (it  being  winter)  was  tranquilly  asleep. 

He  consented  to  give  the  creature  for  the  purposes  of  the  hunt, 
and  it  was  placed  secretly  in  a  marsh  near-by.  The  next  day 
Sarah  was  told  that  the  hunt  had  been  organised.  She  was 
delighted  beyond  measure  and  gaily  walked  the  five  miles  to 
the  spot,  where  the  sleeping  alligator  was  captured  without  any 

Maurice  Bernhardt  was  at  Belle  Isle  at  the  time  and  Sarah 
sent  him  the  alligator,  together  with  a  letter  telling  her  son  that  he 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  317 

did  not  need  to  be  afraid  of  it,  for  it  was  a  "  quiet  little  thing  " 
and  had  not  even  made  a  move  since  it  had  been  caught. 

But,  unfortunately,  when  the  alligator  arrived  at  Belle  Isle, 
it  was  its  time  to  wake  up,  and  it  became  a  formidable  customer — 
so  dangerous,  in  fact,  that  before  Sarah  could  arrive  to  view  her 
capture  in  its  new  home  it  had  to  be  killed. 

Sarah  had  a  regular  colony  of  dogs,  horses,  and  birds  on  the 

After  the  war  she  announced  her  intention  of  returning  to 
the  stage,  one-legged  though  she  was.  There  was  a  chorus  of 
protest,  which,  however,  had  no  effect  upon  her. 

Money  had  to  be  earned,  and  it  seemed  as  though  she  was  the 
only  member  of  the  family  who  could  earn  it !  So  she  returned 
to  the  stage,  in  Athalie,  and  was  given  on  the  opening  night  what 
was  possibly  the  greatest  ovation  of  her  career. 

Then  Louis  Verneuil,  a  talented  young  poet  who  had  married 
her  beautiful  grand-daughter  Lysiane,  wrote  a  play  specially 
for  her — Daniel.  It  was  the  story  of  a  young  author,  victim  of 
opium.  In  it  Sarah  had  no  need  to  move,  but  spoke  her  lines 
sitting  in  an  armchair  and  lying  on  a  couch.  Even  thus,  her 
tremendous  personality  and  her  magnificent  voice  dominated  the 

Sarah  next  played  in  a  one-act  play,  Le  Vitrail,  by  Rene 
Fauchois,  at  the  Alhambra.  Then  she  produced  Regine  Armand, 
and,  finally,  created  La  Gloire,  by  Maurice  Rostand. 

Not  content  with  this  almost  superhuman  labour,  she  was 
arranging  to  play  with  the  Guitrys,  at  the  Theatre  Edouard  VII. 
when,  just  before  Christmas  1922,  she  was  seized  with  an  attack 
of  her  old  enemy,  uremia. 

3i8  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her 

I  was  among  those  who  called  at  the  little  house  in  the  Boule- 
vard Pereire  on  the  night  of  December  31,  when  it  was  thought 
that  she  must  die.  But  she  rallied,  and  though  all  her  friends 
and  her  family  and  she  herself  knew  that  it  was  but  a  temporary 
reprieve,  she  insisted  on  going  back  to  work.  Not  this  time, 
on  the  stage,  but  in  her  own  house  before  the  motion-picture 

A  syndicate  organised  by  a  young  American  in  Paris  and 
directed  by  another  American,  Leon  Abrams,  made  her  an  offer  of, 
I  think  it  was,  5,000  francs  per  day.  She  was,  as  usual,  penniless, 
and  the  offer  was  a  godsend. 

She  posed  for  the  film,  with  her  chimpanzee,  in  the  studio  at 
the  rear  of  her  house. 

So  needy  was  she  that,  just  before  lapsing  into  unconscious- 
ness for  the  last  time,  she  demanded  that  the  moving-picture  men 
should  be  admitted  to  the  bedchamber. 

"  They  can  film  me  in  bed,"  she  said,  her  voice  scarcely 
audible,  so  weak  was  she.  "  Now,  don't  object,"  as  Professor 
Vidal  remonstrated,  "they  pay  me  5,000 francs  each  time  I  pose  !  " 

Her  insistence  on  fulfilling  her  contract  to  play  in  this  cinema 
play  was,  according  to  the  doctors,  the  cause  of  her  last  collapse. 
It  was  more  than  her  strength  could  stand.  She  was  really 
dying  when  she  faced  the  camera  on  the  last  two  occasions.  But 
her  indomitable  will  triumphed  over  her  body  almost  to  the  last, 
and,  until  the  dreadful  malady  paralysed  her,  she  continued  acting. 

My  tears  are  falling  as  I  write  these  last  lines.  They  are 
difficult  sentences  to  fashion.  I  am  no  poet,  and  words  could  not 
add  to  the  drama  of  that  night  when  the  divine  Call-boy  came  for 
Sarah  Bernhardt. 

Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I  Knew  Her  319 

She  died  at  five  minutes  past  eight  o'clock,  her  snow-white 
head  pillowed  in  the  arms  of  her  son,  Maurice. 

"Be  a  good  boy  .  .  .  Maurice."  These  were  her  last 
words.   .  .  .  The   curtain   descended.  .  .  . 

That  day,  Monday,  the  twenty-sixth  of  March,  Victor  Hugo 
died  for  a  second  time. 

Even  before  she  died,  Sarah  Bernhardt  had  outstripped  Glory 
and  had  become  Legend. 

Nothing  of  hers  had  faltered  :  not  her  intelligence,  not  her 
heart,  not  her  talent,  not  her  genius.     She  was  complete. 

She  was  the  glory  and  the  light  of  the  French  theatre.  The 
light  that  is  extinguished  will  not  flame  again.  How  dark  it 
seems  ! 

Dead,  she  is  greater  than  in  life.  WTio  of  us  would  not  accept 
her  luminous  night  ? 

Her  epitaph,  by  Jacques  Richepin  : 





jBAn«i^ii>i^a  0£:.i^i. 





PN  Berton,   Therese  Meilhan 

2638  Sarah  Bernhardt  as  I 

B5B4.5  knew  her